The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe

A modern adaptation of the traditional story holds lessons relevant to today’s emerging post-growth world.

By Carole Alderman

Susann Mielke via Pixabay

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She didn’t have very much housework to do.
She enjoyed making jam,
With fresh fruit from the trees,
She had milk from the cow and honey from bees.

She was happy for a time until her cousin from the town visited her and showed her photographs of what seemed to the old woman, a fine, large residence. When her cousin went home, the old woman began thinking and comparing her shoe to her cousin’s home.

“Of course,” I wouldn’t want a big place like that she thought. “But I wouldn’t mind something a little bit bigger than this.”

The more she thought about it, the more she started becoming restless, until one day she began to look out for a bigger place to live. She wished she could have a box to live in, instead of the shoe. In time someone told her of some boxes nearby, one of which was empty, so she left her shoe and moved into the box.

The box was much bigger than the shoe, so there was more housework, and it was further to walk to the cow for her milk, but she still had plenty of time and reasoned that the exercise would do her good, so for a while she was happy with her new box. Until, one day, hearing she had more room, her cousin from the town came to visit bringing a friend along. The old woman enjoyed their company. She found them great fun with their bright clothes and laughter. She liked her cousin’s friend, although she was a little condescending. She was quite well off and had a big detached house.

After a week or so, her cousin and friend went home. Again the old woman became restless and was dissatisfied with the box.

“This is not much of a box for me to be living in,” she thought. “I felt quite ashamed of it, when my cousin’s friend showed me a picture of her lovely house. I don’t want much, but I wish I could just have a nice cupboard to live in. Then I would be happy.”

And so she worried and wished and wished and worried until eventually she got a cupboard.

At first, she was happy with the cupboard. She cleaned and painted it and made new curtains. It really was rather nice, although it was a lot of work. She had no time to make jam now. But she was quite proud of the cupboard.
She lived in the cupboard happily for a year or two and then she had a letter from her cousin saying she was moving into a big house near her friend. Suddenly her cupboard did not seem so big.

“This cupboard really is not big enough,” she thought to herself angrily. “I do not really like it in here. I would prefer something outside in the garden. A small shed perhaps. Yes! That would make me happy.”

Again she moved. This time into a lovely shed in a small garden with a pond, a beautiful lawn, flower beds, a herb garden and big, shady trees.

“Oh, this is heaven!” she thought. “This is what I’ve always wanted. I’ll train the red roses round the door. It’s so pretty, I’ll be happy for the rest of my life.”

And for a while she was. She trained the roses round the shed door and had to admit she was pleased with herself. It was a lot of work keeping the shed clean and with the extra gardening, she no longer had time to get honey. But she didn’t mind, as she was very pleased with the beautiful shed. She admired the garden with its pond, lovely lawn, flower beds, fragrant herbs and trees.

Then, one day, when she was taking tea on the lawn, her eyes began to look to the far end of the garden at the fine stone house and she became discontented with her shed.

“I want a house. I’m tired of this gloomy shed. Why shouldn’t I have a house like some others have?”

She again became restless and brooding. Time went by and she got a house. She was delighted with it and busied herself making it beautiful. She soon found that the leisurely life to which she had been used, was over, as she now had to go out to work to earn extra money for the upkeep and maintenance of her new home. Now she came home tired in the evenings. There was a lot of housework and with the extra expense of a bigger house, she could not afford to pay anyone to help her. But at least she had a house like her cousin.

Then one weekend, while she was out taking a walk, she saw in the distance a beautiful mansion. “I’d love to live in a mansion. Then my life would be complete. I’d want nothing more.”

Eventually she did live in a beautiful mansion.

“This is the life,” she cried with joy. “I’m so happy. I’ll never want more again.”

But the day-to-day business of running a mansion, with so many callers coming and going, so many people staying there, meant she never had a moment’s peace.

“Out of all the places I’ve lived in, I’m most unhappy here. It’s a beautiful place to visit. But I don’t feel at home. I can’t afford the rent and I’m in debt. If only I’d been contented and stayed in the shoe, or even the box or cupboard. How foolish I have been. I’ve wasted my life worrying about what I hadn’t got, instead of enjoying what I had. How I wish I was back in the shoe. I used to love picking fruit and making jam. I had free milk and honey. I shall work to pay off my debts and I shall go back to the shoe.”

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She didn’t have very much housework to do.
She enjoyed making jam,
With fresh fruit from the trees,
She had milk from the cow and honey from bees.

Like us, the old woman who lived in a shoe
When plagued by desires, what could she do
But give them full rein, but the pleasure was short
And she never found the peace that she sought.

But then the old woman who lived in a shoe
Took up silent sitting and knew what to do!
Controlling her senses, and with inner view,
She found peace and contentment,
Perhaps you can, too!

‘The Old Woman who lived in a shoe’ appears in one of several hundred Lesson Plans which Carole Alderman has written for teaching children from ages 4 to 13 years. The ‘Sacred & Secular Education in Human Values’ programme draws on the great teachings and cultures throughout the ages who realised that happiness of both individuals and entire societies could only come from practicing ‘ceiling-on-desires’, and not by letting wants run unchecked.

Originally published in January 2012 on the Post Growth Institute (PGI) blog. Find out more about the PGI on our website.

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Guiding the way to a full circle, #postgrowth economy beyond capitalism.

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Writing by team-members, guest contributors, and Fellows of the Post Growth Institute (PGI).

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