I wonder what my parents were thinking the day I came home from college and said, “I want to put my education to work. I want to homestead!”
There may have been a long pause — I can’t remember now — followed by some expertly crafted support rhetoric.
I do remember, though, how that passion was sparked in what seemed like an instant. It was as if there was an unfinished puzzle sitting in front of me, and I had finally put enough of the pieces in to figure out what the picture was.
I was entranced by the idea that I could work, live without clutter and noise, eat well, be sustainable, and stay healthy, all without driving anywhere. I knew it was for me, but not everyone who finds happiness in simplicity does in overnight, and happiness isn’t a permanent state.
Exploring what happiness and simplicity really are helps to appreciate how a simple life, while maybe less convenient, can be a happy life.
1Hard Work is Rewarding
It’s what your grand-pappy used to say right? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I’m not going to pretend that fixing broken fences in the snow and rain is hella fun! It is not.
Knowing yourself, though, is an unparalleled reward and there isn’t a better time to get to know yourself than when you are giving something your all. Real satisfaction is achieved in creating something with blood, sweat, and tears and there’s a lot to be learned from failure, like perseverance.
An integrated, agrarian life combines problem-solving with physical ability, research with experimentation. It occupies both your head space and your body. That is what I call a complete workout.
“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”
― Thomas Jefferson
I often speak with creative professionals who express concern that living simply is a boring, day-to-day exercise in the mundane; a cyclical ceremony honoring obsolete traditions. This is why my husband and I strive to make every act on the homestead an act of art. We don’t have to go out of our way either.
When I design the year’s garden and then watch my beans, squash, and corn all grow into an expression of my intention; that is creativity. Crafting a new design for a gate, fence, or feeder fills the creative cup.
Living simply buys you back time that would otherwise be spent in the car, at the office, restaurant, shop, club or movie. So, I have time to take photos, stretch canvas and actually paint. Not to mention the inspiration that bubbles over when surrounded by happy animals and rich gardens.
“My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can. In both our work and our leisure, I think, we should be so employed. And in our time this means that we must save ourselves from the products that we are asked to buy in order, ultimately, to replace ourselves.”
― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
A very happy time in my life was when I lived in a small apartment the city and literally walked 15-20 blocks to work every day. Every morning, the city came alive. Each day felt like I was a part of this organism. I was a cog in this machine that was propelling humanity toward future grandeur, and being a part of that something-bigger felt amazing.
It feels great until you are faced with the fragility of it all, the wastefulness, and the reality that unless something changes, it will all collapse. The ultimate organism that we are all a part of is Earth, not the city.
Knowing what is good for us takes reflection, and a life of simplicity allows for that. Watching nature come alive each morning is a sense of awe beyond any, and you don’t have to live in the country. An urban homestead still awakens to the sounds of its birds and gardens, and to the smell of home cooked meals.
“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world – to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity – our own capacity for life – that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.”
― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
4An Integrated Life
My childhood in the 80’s and 90’s was a series of rides to scheduled blocks of time. Ride the bus to school, ride the van to volleyball practice, ride in the car to piano lesson, ride with mom to do errands, ride to doctors office, and ride to the assisted living facility to visit grandma.
It just seemed very compartmentalized, like those professional organizers who want you to have a plastic bin for every item you own. A simple life is an integrated life which means that the homestead is the school, and the grocery store, and the workplace, and the doctor’s office (within reason). Each act of living becomes an act of teaching, working, and learning. There is intention and information in something as simple as taking a shower when you’ve plumbed your greywater through a greenhouse where it waters year-round salad greens.
“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.”
― Bill Mollison
5Security in Sustainability
We’re used to depending upon utilities and retail stores so much, we place our sense of security in them. Pulling in a year’s worth of garlic, onions, and potatoes always gives me the deepest sense of stability, a ‘we’re going to be alright’ feeling.
Imagine never paying a utility company again. As long as the sun is shining or the wind is blowing you will have lights, hot water, and telephone.
Even if your homestead isn’t totally off-grid, with each step toward sustainability, you gain security. In the gales of a winter storm, knowing that your Rocket-Mass-Heater keeps you toasty warm with the slightest amount of wood is enough to have you singing “let it snow.”
Our current system of production, distribution, and consumption is not sustainable. It is totally dependent on fossil fuels, the exploitation of animals, and dwindling free resources from the Earth. It will fail, and withdrawing our investments in it now not only protects us, but it encourages the larger system to change for the better.
“A sacred way of life connects us to the people and places around us. That means that a sacred economy must be in large part a local economy, in which we have multidimensional, personal relationships with the land and people who meet our needs, and whose needs are met in turn.”
― Juliana Birnbaum Fox, Sustainable Revolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms, and Communities Worldwide