Downshifting
An Interview with Richard Cannon

Downshifting is a major life decision but one which could change your life for the better forever. It basically entails living more simply and could even mean dropping out of the rat race altogether if that is your wish.

There are various levels of downshifting, from living more simply to completely changing your whole life and become more self reliant and perhaps even moving to somewhere remote. It all depends on who you are and what you want from life.

I have been interested for some time in downsizing and wondered how hard it really was and what really were the benefits. So I decided to ask someone who has not only done it themselves but who has done it well and if his websites are anything to go by, something which all of us could try for ourselves we wanted to.

This interview with Richard Cannon the author of www.thedownshifter.co.uk and www.downthelane.net is a truthful insight into the life of someone who decided that downshifting their life was worth the time and trouble and which has provided hi with a life he is happy with.

1. Hi Richard and thank you for giving us some of your time to answer some questions about downshifting. I like to begin an interview by asking the interviewee to tell us a little about them selves and in your case why you decided to downshift your life?

I'm a Kentish Man and after leaving School in 1965, had a range of pretty good jobs in Advertising, Marketing, Retail and Railway Management spanning 35 years. I now live in Ashford Kent. During the Summer I work as Dressing Room Attendant for the Kent Cricket Team and through winter odd job doing all sorts of work from decorating to dog sitting!

In 1997, over a period of 6 weeks I experienced a marital separation, a 'warning' Heart disorder and then lost my eldest daughter Louise in a Motor Bike crash. At the time I was a Manager on the Railway with 130 staff and earning a very comfortable salary, but after that, it all seemed a bit 'secondary in the meaning of life'.

It made me look at myself (at the time I was 48) and re-assess what I wanted out of life and the answer I got was not in line with the job I was doing.

For a while I didn't know what my new direction would be, although I sensed it to be one of self reliance, a life in which I could go at my pace and spend more time with the family etc. Time went on and no absolute clear vision came, but decided I would have to take the plunge of early retirement and basically, just go from there. I started doing Gardening work, which rolled onto Customers asking me to do other things such as decorating. This was good, but financially getting me into trouble.

In 2002 I took the summer work at Kent CCC and all now appears to be slotting into place.

2. Downshifting can mean lots of different things to different people. Can you explain what does downshifting mean to you?

Downshifting to me is a bit of the Hippy saying 'do your own thing'. It's a life in which I can set my own lifestyle and work around that, not the other way round if you see what I mean. It's taken 8 years to just about get things right. I am now in a position where I can up the pace, or slow it down depending on my financial needs at the time. The secret I've found is to not put all your eggs in one basket - have a lot of diversity in the things which you can earn money from, so should one slow down, you can concentrate on another.

It also allows me to see my family more, but most importantly, when they want to see me or when I want to see them, not squeezing it into weekends, four weeks holiday a year or between workload etc.

In a way I also see it as a spiritual kind of experience, not in the religious sense, but a means of seeking out your soul, what you are about and where you are going.

3. You mention on your web site about the ups and downs of downshifting. Can you give us some examples of these ups and downs?

I'm afraid to say that a lot of the time it's money which does make the world go round and there's no two ways about it - you need some! So the downs are definitely financial. I've had times when I've hidden valuables in fear of Bailiff's and until I've seen who's actually in a car, have prepared to be not in when I've heard the sound of a car coming down the lane!

I went from Car to Moped to Bicycle and once into walking because I couldn't afford to mend the Bike - you see the funny side of it though. It's a stress, but it's your stress and not one caused by things which are not in your control.

The up sides are achievement, when you feel you've 'won the race' (but there are many Heats!). It's when you've got out of a mess by changing something, finding a new source of income. It's like I have just achieved one whole year without an overdraft, the first time this has happened in nearly 9 years of downshifting. I tell you, it's sends you to Cloud 9.


4. There are various levels of downshifting, from becoming more frugal to completely changing your life and giving up a lot of the trappings of modern day living. Can you tell us to what extent you have changed your life and how has downshifting affected your life?

I think I answered most of this in the first question, but there are many types of downshifting, the main two being downshifting to a planned future and downshifting because you've had no alternative, such as a redundancy.

The main thing is to accept you can't have what you had before, a mistake I made to a certain extent. You need to be frugal from the word go and not think you can do it gradually. If it's a planned downshift, then be frugal from the time you first consider it.

Nine years in and I'm earning half the amount I was back in 2000. This may to some appear an impossibility, but I now have a car, I go off for days out, have the occasional camping trip and see my family quite often. There is nothing I need so to speak, I have enough.

I don't see it now as what I had and what I have - it's simply the latter - and I have enough. I'm happy with my lot and feel confident about the future. One thing very noticeable now with the Credit Crunch going on is that I don't have the stress of going into work not knowing if it's my last day or looking over my shoulder all the time. It's a nice feeling. I am completely ME. If I succeed, it's my doing, if I fail, it's my doing.


5. If some one were thinking of downshifting their life for the first time, what would be your best piece of advice for them?

Prepare as much as you are able to. I went into it rather wishy-washy and paid the price financially. Change some of your Garden into an area of producing your own food, get some chickens. Food is the most essential thing for survival, so produce as much of it yourself as you can. You can live in a tent with food, but not in a house without it!

Always expect the unexpected, like the car engine blowing up (I had that!!) so attempt to have some money put away for a rainy day. I didn't and it made things a lot more difficult.

Finally ensure your partner is 100% behind the quest, they are the one's who have to sacrifice as well and maybe not through their own decision.

6. Your website "the Downshifter" is an excellent resource for anyone considering downsizing their life. I know that sharing experiences can be a great motivator when trying to do something out of the ordinary, I know that by my own experiences with leading a frugal lifestyle, hence this website.

I was therefore wondering what was your driving force behind your website, was it a desire to help others out of the rat race or was it important to share your own experiences with others? 

The Downshifter is more a source of straight information. My personal experience is recorded in my main website at www.downthelane.net which goes a lot deeper into the ups, the downs and ways I've coped with various trials and tribulations.

Down the Lane was started more or less as just a hobby and to show myself I could do a website, but now and over 700 pages later, it has become a bit more than that.

So the answer to the question is both really.

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