For a long while now, I've been thinking of posting about something really close to my heart and home (get it-hahaha!); voluntary simplicity, intentional living, simple living, mindful living, radical simplicity, whatever the chosen term may be.
While many of my posts touch upon simple living topics, lately I've been itching to open a real discussion with you guys about the choices we all make about such basics of our lives as food, shelter, possessions, transportation and energy, as well as the spiritual implications of those choices.
Lately, I've been noticing that more and more of the folks who wander on to this log seem quite drawn to these aspects of my posts. And these days, most every log I read is engaged in some kind of making of their own world.
The impetus to finally write this post actually came from a reader of mine, who's blog I discovered through a comment they left here. Mary of Terralectualism makes so many amazing concoctions, that going through her backlog of posts has been my main reading material for a spell now. I was particularly smitten by her posts on wildcrafting, Dandelion Wine, Flower Essences, and her beautiful and honest Birth Story. Her blog has a wealth of information on wildcrafting, gardening and a more conscious life, in a big city no less.
Mary's enthusiasm is so contagious, her writing unpretentious and fun, exactly the kind of inspiration all of us working towards a greater self-sufficiency could use. And she's certainly not alone in that enthusiasm.
Whether it's making your own lotions, potions or brews, we're finding that there's a way to do it yourself. To slow down and put a little love into your everyday needs and wants.
And that precisely is at the heart of Simplicity to me. It is important to define the term for oneself, because there are as many definitions and schools of thought on Simple Living, as well as terms for the same ephemeral idea, as there are professed practitioners of it, but to me Simple Living means less consumption of goods and energy, less money, more time, more connection, more thoughtfulness.
Sounds simple, right? You reduce your consumption, so that you don't need to work as much and therefore have more time. Fancy-pants theorists call it escaping the work-spend cycle. Urban eco-yuppies call it downshifting. Your average Lutheran work-ethic possessing society calls it alternative living.
But what do those lofty sounding principles mean in practice? Since calling out self-righteous hypocrites is very de rigueur in this complex day and age, I got to tell it like it is: as you've probably noticed from this blog we're not exactly self-sufficient, stationary neo-luddites. What we do is make consumption choices and take time.
We have minimal debt (I have student debt, basically.), no mortgage, no car-payment. We live in a less-than-ideal house, about a 500 sq. feet, half of which is a 100-years old and the other half used to be a part of our local bar (I make a lot of jokes about the ghosts of drunks past...). It's decidedly rustic and not in that cute log-cabin-y fashion-magazine style, but the rent is about 2500 dollars worth of work-trade a year
It has to be said that lot of the consumption "choices" we make are based on facts beyond our control. We don't own a house because we can't afford one, but we're also not striving to afford one, and feel dubious about the possibility of taking out a loan to afford one.
For the very same reasons we don't own a house, we've never had a car newer than 20-years old. For the 900 dollars our Volvo cost, we can pay for all the oil changes and tune-ups we want and still come out on top. If we (god forbid) end up totaling it (Although I got to say, if you are going to get into a horrific car-accident a 80s Volvo is a really good car to do it in-it's all steel. You'd think all cars were all steel, but they're not. A lot of new cars are actually mostly plastics and alloys and other un-crash-worthy materials.), or some other irrevocable damage should occur, there's probably another 900 dollar car out there somewhere for us.
Much of our consumption is defined not by what we have, but what we don't. This is not to say we don't have things we need, or even frivolous things we want (think boats and Gunny Sacks). It's just that we don't have a lot of the things that this American society considers necessities.
Most everything we have in terms of material possessions is previously owned, and was either free, thrifted, gifted, or bartered. When we need something, we look for it first in our community, then in other second-hand venues and only when it's not possible or practical to get it used will we buy it new.
Since food and shelter are the main things all of us need to secure, I'd say food is the most important consumer choice our family makes.We grow and gather and catch (not that we catch that much ;) about a quarter of our own food. We buy another quarter locally, maybe more. For the rest, we try to do sustainable, organic, seasonal and local (as in Western Washington), as well as affordable. Over the years, I hope to make the two former up to 2/3, which might be hard even this far South, that can be challenging. But the politics of simple eating deserves its very own post, methinks, so more on that later.
And what do we get for all this reduced consumption? (Without many further hypocrite-disclaimers, I have to say that I have no illusions about the fact that our consumption is relatively small only in the incredibly inflated terms of the Western world.)
Time, for one thing. We both work part-time and mostly in the summer and doing so enables us to take extended trips, work on crafts, walk around aimlessly in the rain in the hopes of finding a few little mushrooms and spend up to three hours on making dinner each night.
We don't make a lot of money, and by the time the season rolls around again, we're usually broke like two hobos on the road to nowhere (though this year was pretty bad even for us...we actually ended up OWING money. Lessons learned...).
It's not that we're poor, it's just that we don't have much money. And we're really okay with that. It takes some getting used to to realize that there's no such thing as financial security, but once you do, it's easy to enjoy what you have, plan for the future and still have a good time. To me not having to worry about money means to not have to worry about not having any.
Another thing I feel our family has gained from Simplicity is the spiritual satisfaction of doing things for ourselves and making do with less. There is relatively little spiritual satisfaction in popping open a can of store-bought pasta sauce, but the tomatoes you canned yourself still seem to retain a little summer sunshine even in mid-winter. Knowing that you can bake bread, or carve a native style bowl is so much more pleasurable than knowing that you have the money to acquire those things. More than just possession, it is empowerment.
From growing and gathering our food, to making things with our hands we are learning new skills daily. A simple life that forces you to be crafty and resourceful also makes you more attuned to what surrounds you, the endless possibilities for food, shelter, art all around you.
There must be some pathway into our primordial brain that makes these little acts of creation so fulfilling.
It is also something that brings us that much closer to the Earth, an understanding that neither of us had the opportunity to fully develop until we moved away from the urban environments we both grew up in. Yet another emotional benefit of Simplicity, is the knowledge that perhaps we are doing a little less harm to this entity we are part of, this Turtle Island floating in space. (Okay, I fully realize how incredibly hippie that last sentence sounds and as I final disclaimer want to say that I absolutely do not believe that our choices make us any kind of environmental saints. Far from it. I just think this Earth deserves more than one day a year. Wow. I just totally out-hippie-ed myself.)
Now I realize, that we're VERY, VERY lucky to be in a position where we can do any, let alone all of these things. Free rent is hard to come buy. Let alone free rent with garden space (tiny as it may be). Living in a farming community is an amazing boon. Being surrounded by like-minded folk is another.
There are many lessons we are still learning about how to enjoy our time on this earth, while doing the least harm, but I feel like taking walks in the rain, wildcrafting and watching nature unfold quietly are some of the best teachers one could hope for. As well as those like-minded folk.
And that's where you come in, Spirit Sisters. I would love to hear your thoughts on Simplicity, the physical and spiritual implications of living mindfully as you see them. This is our way of simplifying, but there are an endless number of others. Things you do you might not even consider conscious simplicity. Or hey, if just want to call me on my hippie BS, here's your chance ;)
I have more in-depth posts in the works on the different aspects of Voluntary Simplicity, on food and medicine, possessions, community and activism. Each of these is a topic I would love share ideas on with you.
From dandelion wine, to the Women's Herbal Symposium(Oh how I hope to go some day!), tochicken-husbandry, to knitting your own, beautiful clothes, to gathering simple, wild salad greens, bartering your own produce, starting gardens and wildcrafting while looking extremely stylish, or defending animal rights, (and if not mentioned here-do tell me about the cool thing YOU do) you all are my heroes.
(Awesome pint from Sadie. One of the simple pleasures of my life ;)
Love, sunshine and wild greens,