1. Scratching The Surface
When I began learning to live sustainably, I started with the basics: namely food. But quickly I entered the universe of sustainable and simple living, where I read website after website and acquired several books along the way. Matt acquired books, too. He worked on learning how to make bread, cheese, and daily meals out of homegrown ingredients. I worked on learning how to grow things, preserve our harvests, and use natural cleaning and bathing products. And together we learned to reduce our waste, compost, and get by using fewer resources.
But that hardly scratched the surface of sustainable living! What about sewing, knitting, root cellaring and other more serious preserving, harvesting rainwater, making our own alcohol (beer, wine, and more), making soap and candles, raising chickens and ducks and goats, making our own biofuel, growing and grinding our own wheat, drying laundry by hand, and – my goodness, I know there are a million more things to put on this list! You all know what they are. And of course on top of all the rest, you must add the minor detail of spreading the word and building your community!
So… that’s a lot. It’s a lot for one person to do. It’s a lot for two people to do. If you have a bigger family, I imagine it’s still a whole lot to do. And I think we often believe that we can – and we should – do it all.
2. Jumping Into Society
Can we do all of it? Maybe. Probably, if we ran ourselves ragged – but we wouldn’t have time for much else.
But. Very few people in this world – in the present or in the past – ever had to do all of this themselves. Shall I say that again? There are very few people that have ever had to do everything all by themselves.
Why? Because we have this glorious thing called society, and it surrounds us. There are others who do these things too, and there are others who do some of these things probably better than you can do them. And you can probably do some things better than most – or all – of the people around you.
Ah, but then, you say, you must do these things in order to live frugally. Here is my answer to that: even if you are trying to live frugally, you only have a certain amount of time in the day. And so, it is important to prioritize. What really decreases your costs? Or, to put it differently, what decreases your costs most? Is it preserving? Mending? Making soap? The answers will be different for each of us, I’m sure.
And furthermore, what about that age-old form of commerce: bartering? What if I got together with my friends and family and we all assigned ourselves certain tasks: I’ll make jam, you knit scarves and socks, she’ll make soaps, they’ll build the root cellar, and so on? Is that just an Amish ideal, or can’t we do that in our urban and suburban worlds, too?
What if you don’t have friends and family who are interested in these things? You know my answer to that: find people who are! You’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely. Chat with the people at the local yarn shop or CSA, take a soap making class and ask your fellow students, join a green book club or some other club – there are a myriad ways of meeting people. (I have written many more suggestions here.)
3. Finding Equally Good (or Better) Alternatives
When we first moved into this apartment from our 1/2 acre in Geyserville, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to survive without growing 90% of our own food. After just a year growing our own food, we really grew accustomed to having fresh organic food daily, full of nutrients and complex flavors.
Well, after being in Seattle for a few months, I learned that I can find amazing produce at the farmer’s markets. And that there are actually a lot of choices for local foods – lots of local farms, CSAs, and other delivery services. We have grown some of our food this year, but the vast majority has been from local growers. Yet we are still eating about 90% locally-sourced foods. And I am still losing weight and feeling great!
By allowing other people – good people – to grow my food, I am able to spend a lot more time in my community, working to make it stronger, more adaptable, and socially and environmentally responsible. Not only that, but I have supported my local economy and sustainable agriculture by buying from local organic farmers. And I have helped support families who grow things very well.
That is a lovely, lovely thing.
4. Reminding Yourself of Your Main Goals
Sometimes I have to remind myself of the important over-arching goals I set for myself. Because in this world, there are a lot of ways to live our lives and everyone has their opinion about it, but only I know what works best for me.
My Goals: Finding and maintaining maximum health and happiness for my family, reducing our impact on the earth as much as possible, encouraging others to reduce their impact as much as possible, working within my community to make it more socially and environmentally sound, helping others around the world to live happier and healthier lives, and spreading lots and lots of compassion to others.
And so I am reminded. From those over-arching goals, is there anything that says I have to grow my own food? Not if I can still be as healthy and happy as possible, and reduce my impact on the earth! In fact, I can help others in my community to live happier and healthier lives, by supporting local organic agriculture.
I want to live sustainably. As sustainably as I can. But living sustainably does not necessarily mean living self-sufficiently. Because we humans have society to help us. We can – and should – take advantage of all the wonderful things society can offer us. Namely, sharing the work. And working together.
Reminding myself that I don’t have to do everything in order to live sustainably, simply, and frugally is something I need to do on occasion. I hope it has helped remind you, too…