Simple living in lockdown with Wendyl Nissen


You embraced a life of self-sufficiency at just the right time! Why did you decide to change your lifestyle? 

I came out of a corporate career about 20 years ago and had the time to start researching older more sustainable ways of life. The more I learned the more I realised that it all made so much sense. I also noticed that as I changed the way we lived my family was much healthier, not so many colds and flu and things like that. I think that was the catalyst for keeping going.  At the time many of my friends thought I was completely nuts but slowly they've come around to my way of thinking. 

Were there any major challenges with the move that you weren’t prepared for?

When you make major changes to your lifestyle you have to talk the people you live with into them as well. That was a major challenge for me and often I would just go off and do things my way while others preferred to keep to the old way. I think there is also a tendency when you start a new lifestyle to be very black and white, like you have joined a cult or something. I found it was easier to live a little more in the grey area. I might be vegetarian for three days then eat meat. No one died. 

Your book A Natural Year is such a good reference for simple living and covers so many topics from gardening to mental health, to feminism and ageing, and even to keeping cows and chickens! Were you writing this for anyone in particular?

This book started off as something completely different to how it ended up. When I write a book it percolates in my head for about six months and I fill a notebook with ideas and then I sit down and write it quite quickly and furiously. During the percolation stage I found myself addressing a lot of issues around depression and anxiety, the role and rights of older woman in society and the fact that I was bloody well enjoying being 57. So that got written in around the daily excursions for hugging cows, growing and making food and breeding chickens.

There’s a great chapter on living sustainably – what are a few of the most effective changes people can make in their daily lives for the planet?

Jacinda Adern used a really effective tool for dealing with the Covid19 lockdown which was to ask yourself: "if I had Covid19  what should I do?" I think in terms of sustainability you can ask yourself "if I could do this differently to save the planet what should I do?" We all know how to recycle, reuse, keep chemicals out of our homes and gardens, grow food and don't waste it and aim to leave a light footprint on the planet, but I think sometimes we find it is all too hard. Covid19 has taught us that doing some of the hard stuff works. 

For people trying things like gardening and baking for the first time, it’s easy to be put off by one bad experience! Do you have any advice for people who are easily discouraged by things not working out perfectly?

I bake a lot of bread and sometimes it just doesn't work, that's just bread for you. I think in this day and age we expect to see something beautiful on Instagram and then have it turn out exactly the same. Don't set yourself up for failure. Instead accept that sometimes things just don't work out and try again, or try another recipe or take what you did make and turn it into something else like a trifle. The important thing is that you get into the kitchen and have a go, with some nice music playing, sun shining through the window and have a good time. That's the fun of baking. As for gardening I fail most of the time because to grow things is a learning process and it is largely an intuitive skill. Some things will never grow where you want them to.  Learn what went wrong and don't feel bad that you had to go down to the supermarket to by a cauliflower. You'll get it right next time. 

How have you been spending your time over this lockdown period?

I've been in the Hokianga with my husband Paul Little and my 87-year-old Dad who lives through our garage in a cottage. We had to do a mad dash to get Dad back from his caravan where he was having a holiday just before the lockdown! Paul and I lost all our work when Bauer magazines closed and newspapers cut their contributors budget so that was a hell of a shock especially as I have been working in magazines since the early 90s. But we've both got some book projects up, done a budget, and are now living a pretty good life with plenty of eggs, veggies in the garden, a bit too much bread and cakes. We've missed our kids dreadfully but on the plus side we both know how to use Zoom now!


Listen to the first chapter of A Natural Year


Find out more on simple living with Wendyl's books A Natural Year and The Natural Home.