22 February, 2012

Homemaking :: A Power Career (Interview and book review with Rhonda Hetzel from Down to Earth)

Okay, I am about to admit something that on the face of it sounds very uncool, defies my feminist upbringing and might mortify my teenage daughter.

From Down to Earth, A Guide to Simple Living.
Here it goes: One of my favourite writers is a 64-year-old grey-haired grandmother who blogs about housework. I know! So. Not. Cool. Right?
Well, actually, wrong. That grey-haired grandmother is Rhonda Hetzel whose blog Down to Earth has had close to five million visits since she started it four years ago and has led to the launch this month of her first book Down to Earth, A Guide to Simple Living.

Her blog about slowing down, getting off the consumer treadmill, seeking beauty in simple daily tasks and re-learning the lost art of keeping a home, growing food and budgeting is, to me, like a daily dose of sanity in a world obsessed with celebrity, money and consumption.
Rhonda Hetzel and her hubby Hanno, 71, a retired couple from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, have been married for 32 years, have two sons, two grandchildren and love nothing more than pottering around their home and tending their garden.
Six years ago it was a different story. Rhonda was “living the dream” on $100,000 a year and could pretty much buy whatever she chose to. And then, as she puts it, she had a “change of heart”.
She closed down her successful technical writing business when she realised she was burnt out and deeply unfulfilled by filling up her life with shopping.
She had discovered the emptiness that comes from being fixated on consuming; that owning a heap of “stuff” doesn’t make you happy.
Not only did she own up to the emptiness (and this next part is why I admire her) she DID something about it. Something radical and decisive and entirely life-changing – and she did it even though everyone around her thought she was a bit mad.
Rhonda writes: “I’d just finished a major contract with a big company when I realised I didn’t want to work for a living any more. I wanted to stay at home and rebuild my spirit. I wanted to look after my family, slow down, collect eggs and honey and sit and dream in my garden. I wanted to feel more alive.”
If she was going to survive without the six-figure income, Rhonda needed to make some major lifestyle changes and so began a journey that led her to re-discovering the traditional skills of previous generations: cooking from scratch; budgeting and saving instead of living on credit; mending and repairing and tending to a veggie patch.
Rhonda and Hanno now live on less than $30,000 a year – and they do so happily, without deprivation.
“We live on a limited budget, but I am richer now than I’ve ever been in my life. I know how to live. I have the skills to survive a crisis. I have the strength and knowledge to produce my own food and store it. I can clothe myself and others. These are life-engaging and self-empowering skills,” she writes.
When she quit her job Rhonda started looking online for advice on a more frugal lifestyle.
Ever the writer, she started documenting her journey and decided to write a book. When she couldn’t find a publisher, she decided to blog about it instead.
“Then the GFC hit and people realised they really needed to start tightening their belts,” Rhonda said. From that time on the popularity of her Down to Earth blog grew. Rhonda said she is still amazed at how huge the following is for a blog that is simply documenting her day-to-day life and sharing basic home-making skills.
“A lot of people grow up without these skills, and it’s sad,” Rhonda said.
“I get young people writing to me saying I am like the grandmother they wished they’d had.”
While her Down to Earth book is filled with practical skills for building a sustainable, more environmentally responsible, lifestyle – skills such as budgeting, raising chooks, growing food, recycling and re-using, cooking from scratch and making your own green cleaning products – there is a deeper current running through the book that is about finding meaning and beauty in the life you choose to live.
“I have a mixture of readers from both the city and country. Simple living means different things for different people,” Rhonda said.
“I want people to understand they have the power to change their lives. Hanno and I are ordinary people and if we can do it, anyone can.
“Living like this makes you look more deeply into your life. You see more when you slow down, you see the beauty.”
As a working mum with three children, a hefty mortgage and a desire to live in an environmentally sustainable way, I am open to any advice on financial independence, creating a better life for my family and feeling empowered.
Rhonda Hetzel, the grey-haired grandmother who blogs about housekeeping, is helping me achieve those very feminist aspirations. And that is actually very cool.
(Although I suspect using the word cool is uncool… oh well.)


**The above article was published on The Hoopla yesterday. You can read it, and the comments, here, and when you click over, have a good squizz around the site which has been put together by Wendy Harmer and former Notebook magazine editor, Caroline Roessler. I think readers of The Byron Life will like The Hoopla very much :)

The photo below of Rhonda signing my copy of Down to Earth, and the one at the top, of Rhonda and Hanno, were taken last weekend in Byron Bay when the couple dropped by for a visit on their way south for the Down to Earth book tour. Today is the official book launch - Hooray! Congratulations Rhonda, it was wonderful meeting you and Hanno and I hope the whole book tour is a terrific success for you - you deserve it.

Here is another beautiful image from Down to Earth, A Guide to Simple Living. 


  1. I read on Rhonda's blog that she was coming through Byron to see you! Wow Megan, only a tinge of jealousy here getting to meet Rhonda (and Hanno!).
    Wonderful article, it was great to read about her journey again through your words.

  2. Hi Christie! Yes, it was great to meet them - they are the real deal. As authentic in real life as you would expect from the blog.
    I know Rhonda had a 7-page itinerary (!!) that included many VIC country towns... perhaps she will visit near you? I don't know if she has put up the itinerary on her blog, maybe you could comment there, or email her directly, and ask? failing that contact Penguin Books in Melbourne?

    You might just get your chance to say g'day to Rhonda.

  3. Great write up! It sounds like both a fun & interesting visit.

  4. I enjoyed your write up Megan...hope you had a lovely visit with Rhonda and Hanno!

  5. I love Down to Earth and can't wait to get my hands on a copy of that book! I think Rhonda is so incredibly inspiring. I'm a bit jealous you got to meet her!

    Katie x

  6. Go, Rhonda! I turned on ABC 774 radio a day or so ago and one sentence in KNEW without a shadow of a doubt that it was Rhonda talking complete, refreshing, inspirational SENSE.

  7. I was just wondering if Down To Earth was a good book and I stumbled upon this post. Loving your header!