Monday 5 November 2012

The Simple Life

One of the many lures of homesteading life is the simplicity.

The focus is on providing food and shelter with less interest in accumulating wealth and material goods.

I don't think very many people imply that 'simple' translates into 'easy', but it may come as surprise to eager new homesteaders that the financial cost is high and the challenge of striking it out on your own, without a community to support you,
is a tough one.

There is a foolishness to the way we have done things here.
We're isolated and remote despite being within an hour of a large city centre.
The isolation comes from tackling an alternative lifestyle without being part of a kindred community.
Sure there are lots of people doing what we are in the same general area, but everyone is spread out and most folks keep to themselves.
Much of the reason homesteaders don't reach out more is that it becomes tiresome after a while when your lifestyle is viewed so frequently with disdain.
Also, it's great to find likeminded spirits to ease the feelings of isolation, but when it comes down to sharing and helping with the workload, everyone is too busy. Most homesteaders will give help when asked for it, but many don't ask for help knowing that others need their valuable time for their own goals.

The romantic ideals of barn raising and knitting bees comes from tightly clustered communities of large multi-generational families.
In fact, many of the difficulties associated with contemporary homesteading stem directly from the dissolution of the traditional family and the wide dispersion of the homesteads.
There are simply fewer hands to share in the work.

This problem is well recognized and as a result there have been many attempts at developing intentional communities throughout the country.
Unfortunately, municipal by-laws are set up to prevent such 'communes' from arising.
Perhaps due to complex logistics or maybe a carryover attitude from the Cold War.
Also, property has been developed with an eye for profit and not for community building.
Seldom seen are large tracts of developed land severed into 5 or 10 acre lots suitable for small scale farming.
There are farms of several hundred acres and there are subdivisions comprised of lots of less than an acre.
The developers carve up large properties into the smallest possible denominations to ensure the greatest profits.
It is my view that community leadership is more often conducted with self-interest in mind rather than with forward thinking intentions for the long term welfare of the communities themselves.

Making the choice to lead the homesteading life may not be as it seems.
Our culture has not prepared the land and our social fabric for homesteading.
In fact, there has been a steady exodus from that kind of life in exchange for the simple urban life.
The urban life where all you need to worry about is going to your job for five days a week and using that pay to buy whatever food and shelter needed.
In return for simplicity, however, one must endure the 9-5 grind or worse.
It is living for the weekend for most of your life until retirement, upon which time you reap the great reward of chronic illness and an underfunded standard of living.
Homesteading is not really a simple life, but one of greater intrinsic value.

Those who have chosen to go back to land find a depleted infrastructure where tools and expertise have been lost, farmland marginalized and spent, and a lack of coherent community that is so crucial to the success of agrarian life.
One of our most poignant questions is why so many well-intentioned people give up on homesteading and return to the mainstream?
Part of the answer lies in the heartbreak of trying to forge a new lifestyle in a typically forsaken cultural landscape.

Upon deciding to take the challenge on, homesteading needs to be understood as both a compromise and a sacrifice.
The compromise is exchanging the simple and well organized urban lifestyle for a complex and rugged agricultural life offering values that transcend the worthless drive for financial and material wealth.
The sacrifice is for your children and their children.
We have the opportunity to rebuild a future that provides them with a clean environment, strong health, freedom from slavery, and values that reinforce a connection with the land and each other.
We are not homesteading to live the simple life.
We are homesteading to build one.



  1. Andrew,
    Thought provoking post. It stands to reason that those striking out on their own are more likely to fail, become frustrated, or otherwise give up if they have to do it all on their own.

    I have found myself frustrated not having a third set of hands to hold or plumb while I nail. Getting good with tools (and owning the right ones) is helpful, but the reality is that things just tend to take longer, and when time is limited to begin with, projects can get shoveled to the back burner, or torched completely.

    As one trying to build the homestead and 'simple' life you refer to whilst maintaining the 9-5 grind and trying to parent 3, it would be extremely helpful to have a 'community' that I could rely on for help and provide help to, when needed.

    The balancing act of time, separation of work from play and acknowledgement of reciprocates would be central to any successful community. Private ownership, distance and ultimately, looking after one's own family has become the norm versus the more centralized communities and shared accommodations that likely existed during the settling of our ancestors.

    How would you suggest organizing a community of like-minded individuals living within a reasonable distance of each other, where work-share, leisure time and child socialization are carried out in a pseudo-organized, though not too formal manner?

  2. I second Slow's question. Andrew, are you aware of any communities where they've managed to make it work, or what it might take to create such a community in these parts?

  3. This is a big topic and more complex than most.
    Yet it holds the solutions to so many of the problems that come with the homesteading life.
    I don't have much knowledge of working intentional communities so I'll look into it.
    I do know that to make it work here will require a considerable assault on the status quo.
    It could be done with huge amounts of money, but that would surely tarnish the integrity of a project.
    For now, building a network would be simple enough. The single greatest detraction would be the amount of petroleum fuel needed for transportation.
    There is an Amish community close by. I'll start asking some questions to see how they are organized.
    We are already part of a homeschool group, but work sharing and leisure time is more difficult to accommodate.
    This question deserves a symposium and some modest structure for action.
    Let me chew on this for a little longer.