The Simple Life
About two years ago, Matt and I were living in Geyserville, CA, population 1,600. He was working full time, and I was basically taking some time off from a taxing several years working long hours in the LA film industry.
When we moved there, we planned to stick around for the rest of our lives, living the simple life: growing and preparing our own food, using very little electricity and water, learning to live as self-sufficiently as possible. I eventually planned to learn to knit, sew clothing, can and preserve all the food we’d need for the winter, build a root cellar, and even install a micro-hydro-electric power unit and a composting toilet.
I learned a LOT. I had a crash course in gardening with our 2,000+ square foot garden. I almost became a master gardener (before I became fed up with the pro-pesticide stance they take), I preserved, Matt taught me how to bake bread using our own homemade Geyserville starter (and I did it every day), I was thinking about making my own soap and making my own just about everything else.
But then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Right around the time I rushed Raisin to the animal hospital as she sat in my lap dying from pesticides, Matt became fed up with his life of driving long distances to a low-wage job that required significant manual labor. And quite honestly, I realized I wasn’t cut out for the full-time job of homemaking. I had so many ambitions for my life that I no longer had time for. I wanted to make big positive change in the world, and working an 18-hour job at home, I didn’t have time for much else.
For several important reasons, our lifestyle was not sustainable. It was wonderfully fulfilling in some ways – both Matt and I were much healthier, we had time to re-think our life directions, I took up writing and found I loved it, and the flavors of home-grown, home-made cooking were out of this world.
But we were dependent on driving long distances, we were unable to economically make ends meet due to low-wage jobs in the country and the rising price of gas, and we weren’t happy with the long-term trajectory of living a lifestyle that focuses solely on living simply. (Those of us who have tried it know that living simply is not so simple!)
The Sustainable Life
So we took the amazing things we learned, and we moved to the most sustainable neighborhood in the most sustainably-minded city we could find (we did a lot of research). And over the past year and a half since we moved here, I can tell you that one major, major thing that is left out of much sustainable or simple living books and blogs and ideas is this: COMMUNITY.
What can community do for you? Well, cities and towns were built for a reason: to exchange goods and services. Why make and do EVERYTHING yourself, when you can focus on what you’re good at, and trade what you’re good at for other things you’re not so good at? Why spend hours and hours making my own clothes when someone who does it for a living can do it much more efficiently in both time and money? Or soap, or jam, or many, many things?
Using Community To Find Your Balance
I’m not saying cease simple living altogether. It depends on your motivation. My motivation is living as sustainably as I can, and getting others to do the same. Well, sustainable living and simple living are not necessarily the same thing!
So that means I let other people make my food for me sometimes. I don’t let just anyone make and grow my food – I am careful about who I pick, where they source their food, how they treat their employees, what their values are, etc.
But not all the time – I still grow some of our own food. Why? Because I like it, because there are more flavors and nutrients in the food I grow myself, because it is more sustainable than trucking in produce, and because gardening makes me happy and brings me a sense of peace. I also like writing about gardening, and enjoy talking and writing with other gardeners.
So somewhere in there, my family is learning how to balance simple living with an overall sustainable lifestyle where we can still have ambitions to do stuff beyond our home life.
We’re still working on finding ways to be more sustainable with less time. In some ways that is the antithesis of the simple living movement. But it’s important for us to live our lives as we want to live them, and live them sustainably.
What does that mean? I live about a mile and a half from work, and I walk to and from work every day. That takes about an hour round-trip. I save money on gas and parking (or public transit), I have a zero-carbon footprint commute, and I don’t need to go to the gym. All in all, it takes me less time and money to walk than it would take me to use the car or the bus, and go work out in a gym.
That’s just one example of several. I don’t grow all of our own food anymore – I buy food from local growers and vendors whom I trust; I buy soap from a local organic soap company; I buy used clothing from local thrift stores; I live in an energy-efficient apartment so I am warmer but still don’t need to turn on the heat much (increased quality of life!). I do make my own shampoo and household cleaners, because it’s cheaper and easier than looking for a local green brand that works.
And I suppose that is the question Matt and I ask ourselves now: can we do it ourselves cheaper, more easily, and more sustainably (in terms of the planet)? If the answer is yes, we welcome it with open arms. If the answer is no, we generally find a sustainable local source and pay that person to do it.
This is one of the main ways that our community helps us live sustainably.
So back to our question…
Does Living Sustainably Have To Take More Time?
No. I believe it’s possible to find a balance between simple and sustainable, where you can simplify your life as much as you enjoy doing so, and utilize your community to help continue on your path to sustainability.
What Do You Think?
I’m not alone in thinking about these things today. Green Bean got me thinking about this this morning, and Ruchi wrote quite a thought-provoking post called “Is Living Sustainably Unsustainable.” What do you think? Have you been able to find a balance between living sustainably and living the life you want to live?