And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I Have a Question

Really, I would like an answer to this one if it isn't too much trouble.

How, exactly, would becoming more self-sufficient and reducing your impact on the environment change your lifestyle?

See, I have been thinking about this a lot just lately, and I am trying to figure out exactly what is so hard about the whole thing that we don't do it. I just can't seem to figure out what the big deal is. And I am as much at fault as anyone else, so don't go thinking I am getting all "holier than thou" on anyone.

What I am beginning to realise is that we have all been brainwashed into thinking we need all sorts of things that we don't really need. I know some of you that read this are older than my 30 years. I grew up in a large farmhouse with lots of room for our family of four, but I remember my Grandparent's little rambler that also housed a family of four and was only about half the size. Then there were my Grandparent's on the other side of the family, and they had a family of six in a house even smaller than that! The farther back you go in US history, the smaller the houses and the bigger the families. Heck, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of when her family of five lived in a two room house. Two rooms, not two bedrooms. Not all that long ago it was totally normal for children to share a bedroom. I have seen reruns of The Brady Bunch, and if it's on TV you know it's true. Hehe

Seriously, though, what is really necessary for (good quality) life?

I am not saying that I would particularly like to live with 3 or 4 generations all under one roof and everyone sharing a room. I do like my privacy, after all. But I could, if need be.

Then there is the whole Electricity thing.
What does 'lectric provide for us that we really need? Microwave? No, it's really REALLY nice, but I don't really need it. Light? Well, what are candles, oil lamps, and (duh) the sun for? TV? Refrigerator? K, well that one is tough since iceboxes have been out of style long enough that it could be hard to find an alternative. Still, folks lived for years without them, so I figure I can learn to as well.

So we move on to heat/cooling.
Well, here in the frozen north, I can't say that I could do without some form of heat in the winter. I don't really care how buff you are, when the windchill is -30 deg F, you need something to keep you warm. However, do we really need to set our thermostats quite so high? In the summer do we need to run A/C all day every day? Probably not, seeing as folks have lived without it for many, many moons. Still, this is one area where I get a little iffy. When I was in CA last year visiting FIL and his wife, it really sucked to wake up to a freezing room in the middle of the night and have to get up and restart the fire to take the frost off my nose. I wonder if I could handle something like that on an every day basis.

What about running water?
Quite simply, there are too many ways to rig this up for me to really worry about it too much. Heck, my honorary Uncle didn't have running water when he first moved up to his place (outhouse and everything, folks), and though it was a bit of a hassle to fill the reservoir every day he seemed to get by just fine.

Obviously, this is just a quick overview. Still, I would like your thoughts on it. What would really have to change in your life if you just gave it all up?


Kati said...

Now see... Personally there are some things I just don't WANT to give up permanently. Hot showers, for one. Some days that's the only time I actually feel warm. Heat during winter, spring and autumn, for another. (And, I'm still thinking wood is good for some, bad for all. By the time we've denuded the rest of the country's/world's trees, NONE of us will have the ability to have woodstoves. So, we're going to have to come up with a compromise here.) I DO use my microwave, though I wish it was smaller so I could reach the plug-in more easily to unplug the thing when not in use. I also think refridgeration and freezers are rather important during the summer months. I think I would go mad without internet, but that's probably just conditioning. (Not that I want to lose internet and find out for sure!) And last but not least (and a total "luxury") is my radio. I love music, but I'm not much of a musician. I cannot see going through the rest of my life only hearing music when it's me singing it or on Sundays at church (the rare sundays I subject myself to church, that is).

Those are my things I'm absolutely unwilling to give up completely. For me, it's more about what can I reduce reasonably. Not that I don't occasionally take lukewarm or cool showers, but DAMN.... On a -40 day in Jan., the ONLY time of day I actually warm up is standing under that hot spray. I don't have the radio on 24/7, either, but I do enjoy being able to turn it on when I feel like having some music. Or, being able to pop in a cd when I want something other than pop, oldies, or country music. And, as yet we don't have the ability on our property to have a root-cellar. Not one that would actually be sufficiently deep to keep food cool, and reasonably easy to get into in the deepest of winter. Oh, and reading by candle light is not easy. It takes about a dozen candles to get sufficient light to read without straining your eyes greatly. And, a dozen candles packed that closely together becomes a great fire hazard. So yeah.... electric lighting is still my chosen form of lighting. Just less of it, and much more efficient light-bulbs.

And, complete & utter self-sufficiency is, in my opinion, a crock. Even if we all TRULY wanted to cut ourselves off from each other completely (which would drive most of us mad, I believe), we would sooner or later find ourselves needing SOMETHING we couldn't provide ourselves. That's why I don't think self sufficiency is truly an option we should be discussing. More, community based lifestyles, would the appropriate and doable. True self-sufficiency just isn't doable for 99.99% of the world.

I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't do our part to "reduce, reuse, recycle" or "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without", but I do think that there ARE perks to living in the 20th (21st, now) century, and we shouldn't do away with all of them just because.

I think we need to work on providing more (not necessarily all) of our own family's food supplies. We need to find ecologically sound sources of electricity to run the few appliances and electric-usage-tools that we cannot do without. (These ecologically sound sources should also not ALL be run by the big companies. Nothing saying that a person cannot mount a small wind-mill on their house, for example, or their own solar panels.) And we need to rebuild our communities as groups of families who cooperate and work toward a sustainable life, not just a group of people who all happened to buy a home in close proximity to each other. Those are my goals.

barefoot gardener said...

Thanks for your input, Kati!

I agree with you that we don't have to give it ALL up. I am just wondering why it seems so hard for us all to turn off the TV, why we can't seem to wrap our brains around the idea that prepackaged food isn't all that much easier or better.

I think you are on the right track with the whole "community" concept, but I wonder who gets to decide what electric doo dads we can't live without? I know my ideas may be wildly different than yours, and I know Mr. Barefoot would scream bloody murder if I tried to make him live without some of the things he has becomed accustomed to. I know that, for me, the 'net would be the hardest thing to do without. I use it as my own personal library and social outlet.

It will be interesting to see what others have to say...

RuthieJ said...

Hi Barefoot,
An interesting post for sure and I often wonder to myself what I could/would willingly do without also.
There are many Amish families here in SE Minnesota and they're doing without most of our modern conveniences too. Some of them allow people to tour their homes and I'll tell you, it's a different (much tougher) life. Those ladies work hard from morning till night and, granted, they don't have a full-time job outside the home, but there's a multitude of tasks they complete every day without electricity and our other modern appliances.
For me personally, I think the 3 things that would be hardest for me to give up would be running water, air conditioning and the microwave.

Gina said...

The Amish in my neck of the woods (Indiana) are not completely self-sufficient. In fact, I see them chatting on cell phones quite often and some keep electricity in their place of business (they are excellent at business) or the barn shop. Others have solar panels for the small electrical appliances/conveniences they use. And, the most have refrigerators that are ran on propane. There is even a store a few miles from my old house that sells freezers, refrig, and other propane ran appliances. Most also have running water and indoor plumbing (although I am not sure how their well pump works if they don't have electricity directly to it).

I guess that is how I would like to have it: a solar panel or wind generator for some minute uses (I, too, would be lost without the internet for awhile anyway).

Sr would also not be happy without his TV or lights. I think I could learn to do without either, but the habit to just turn it on is very strong (and I think this is the real reason it is hard-we're conditioned).

My dad grew up in a three room house: Parents bedroom, a LR/kids' bedroom/ and a kitchen. He had 7 siblings. They also had a porch area which served as a summer canning kitchen. They had rain barrels and a hand pumped well and an outhouse. The "home place" still stands (although when I toured it back in 2006, the plaster was falling off the walls and the LR floor had a big hole in it-I wish I could restore it). They heated the house in the winter with a coal/wood buring stove. My grandfather lived there until his death in '82.

I personally think if SHTF, running water would be the biggest challenge. I would like to put in a hand pump at some time.

Wendy said...

Without electricity neither my husband nor I would be able to do our jobs. He's an electrical engineer and I'm a Virtual Assitant. We both need electricity to do what we do for a living. We'd have to find a new way to make money, and since we live on such a small piece of land, our lot wouldn't be able to provide enough food for our family AND our livelihood. I'd probably have to go back into teaching.

If we didn't have gasoline for our cars, we wouldn't be able to drive 12 mi to dance class, math class or music class. So, my children's lives would drastically change.

Everything from making dinner to washing clothes would take longer :).

We'd have to build a composting toilet.

We'd have to haul water in from the creek out back, or dig a well and install a hand pump.

I'd have to learn how to hand sew better, because my sewing machine is electric, and if we didn't have money to buy clothes, etc, we'd have to make what we wore.

Deus Ex Machina would have to learn how to hunt, or he'd have to learn to be a vegetarian or learn to like seafood, neither of which which he's interested in doing :). Or he'd have to agree to let me get a goat, and he'd eat chevon ;).

We have to forage for wood for our woodstove, because we don't have enough land to grow our own trees, and we wouldn't be able to afford to purchase cords of wood. Or DEM would have to trade labor for wood.

There are a lot of things that would change for my family if we had to give it all up. Our lives would drastically change and nothing we do on a day-to-day basis would look the same.

Some things would be better, though. We already have bikes, and can you imagine how much healthier (and muscular!) we'd be if we rode our bikes everywhere instead of driving?

We'd spend more time reading, and I have a huge home library. It would take a long time before we ran out of things to read.

We'd (hopefully) have more time to learn some new skills, like how to play my guitar, how to knit, how to speak French ;).

I think the good and bad will balance out for the people who are thinking about what it would be like to do without, but for people who are still clinging to "modern" life, it will be a real hardship.

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

Sorry to have been so late in answering this Barefoot, but here I go

Yes, we have all been brainwashed into thinking we need items we don’t need, the shops are full of things we don’t need, advertising tries to sell us things we don’t need and fashion is surely something that is often so awful that after one year we can’t wait to get shot of it.

What do we need for a good quality life? Love surely comes top of the list, after that being satisfied with what we have while looking after those we love as best as we can... and there is the problem, that is what advertisers usually play on, our desire to do the best we can for those we love. So straight back to your ‘brainwashing’ comments Barefoot!

Electricity, can we do without it? Difficult, but many generations did and still do but do we need to use as much as we do at present? I would be lost without this thing that I am sitting in front of at the moment; I would miss the music on the radio and CD player and, like Kati, would be lost without light to read by.

I agree 100% with Kati’s comment “complete & utter self-sufficiency is, in my opinion, a crock.” It is a fact that for those that live the West it is virtually impossible to live a 100% fully self sufficient life. If I have a toothache I want to see a dentist, a broken bone and I want to go to hospital, and I do not want expectant mothers to have a one in five chance of dying in childbirth. The only way we can live a fully sustainable life with a near zero impact on the planet is to live the life of a fourteenth century pheasant, and I for one do not wish to do this..

We live in an old cottage that once was occupied by two families who shared the four rooms, two for living and two for sleeping, there was (still is) a well In the garden that supplied all the water and an outside toilet. That is one thing I would NOT want today and one of the 20c perks I do not want to give up.

Perhaps the community aspect of life would again return if we all had less?

Can we have 5 R’s rather than three? Let’s keep reduce, reuse, recycle and add to them repair and refuse. Repair things when they can be repaired rather than throwing them away and buying new, and refusing to buy items that have excess packing or leaving the packing at the store.