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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Simple Life. Is It Really So Simple?


Written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

When my family and I embarked on our journey to live a more sustainable lifestyle after I had my green epiphany, little did I realise that this type of lifestyle takes a while to go from the complexity of modern society, to the simple and green lifestyle that I envisaged and yearned for.  My initial motivation was to lower my carbon footprint, so that our grandchildren (yet born) and future generations had a liveable planet.

I knew that I had to change my thought pattens somewhat, having to learn how to slow down, relax, and worry less about things that just were not as important as I thought they were, but inversely I also had to skill up so that I could do all the things that I wanted to do.  However, one rather large thing that I did not realise at the start, was that living a simple life did not mean that life got any easier, it just meant that my priorities had changed.  Hard work was there, and continues to be there in droves.

Let me give you a few examples of how my mindset and workload changed.  Instead of worrying if I needed a shiny new iPad, I had to worry about whether whether we were saving enough energy and that our solar PV system was working as designed.  Instead of wondering what rubbish I was putting in my mouth, I had to ensure that my chickens were getting ample nutrition every day.  Instead of thinking about the price of food going up, I had to think about what I was going to plant in the veggie patch for next season that we would eat and what I could harvest right now.  Instead of having to choose which green grocer was the best in town, I had to think about the optimum way of pruning my fruit trees to maximise next years harvest.  Instead of replacing broken things, I tried to mend them.  Instead of throwing away food scraps, I collected them (and fed the chickens, worms and compost bins).  Instead of spending money, we paid down debt, then saved money.  You get my drift, so many new things to learn and master.

All of these things helped us become partly self reliant and meant that we had to do additional work.  We found that the extra work had meaning more than any other work we had tried, and was worthy of our time, because it made us feel better.  By thinking a different way, and by paying attention to our goals, we found that all the things that we set out to achieve, were achieved, however they always took longer than we planned.  Maybe it was because most of the things we did, like raise chickens, make garden beds, grow food, bake bread, etc. were all new to us but very exciting and fun.

Further down the path we began to question the status quo, the current "business as usual" mentality and realised that what we were doing made sense, was more sustainable than our previous mindset, and would put us in good stead for possible future events like resource scarcity.

We found that living a simple life was fun, enjoyable, and rewarding, but the name of this lifestyle was a little bit deceiving.  It was a lot less complex, and now that we were not caught up in the consumer culture, we did not have to buy stuff we did not need, with money we did not have, to impress people we did not like!

Maybe we should call it the "Rewarding, Fulfilling, and Happy, but Constant work Life".  Have you had a similar experienced, or did it just come naturally to you?

17 comments:

CJ said...

I was just wondering how long it took you to transition across? I've started the journey but I'm curious.

Although it is fairly new for me I already love coming home where I have my systems in place and the ones I'm working towards.

Wendy said...

Spot on and I couldn't agree more. I think it can be very over whelming when you move from a way of life that is second nature and you are basically good at to something on the flip side. All of a sudden there is so much that is new. It's all in the mindest I guess. I love the way you talk of all this change in your life as FUN. Cheers, Wendy.

Gavin Webber said...

Hi CJ, I have been on this journey since September 2006, and far from the end of it.

Hi Wendy, It was a little overwhelming at first, but once you settle into a few bedded down routines, new things just fall into place.

Gav x

Heather said...

I think you are absolutely right! It is hard to live a simple life! I started my green journey back in 2007, and man I have a ways to go. I sometimes wonder if instead of keeping a foot firmly planted in the modern society, and then also trying to be as "green" as possible is the wrong way to go about it. Instead, I should uproot my family and move to some obscure place where there is no modern amenities around...although some would say that would be Maine - where I live currently. I think that living the simple life, while extremely hard work (lets not kid ourselves here) actually means less stress. Less need for the new things, being able to make do with what you have, and being content. Great post!

Joyful said...

I am no where near as self sufficient as you are but I have changed a lot of my habits and become more eco friendly.

I also consume a lot less, materially, than I once did. I certainly have found it a lot of work and rather overwhelming if I try to do too much. I need to take baby steps and learn things slowly, unlike some people who seem to manage to change everything in their lives quite quickly. Ultimately the skills I'm learning, add up to less consumerism and more self-sufficiency.

I'm always impressed and amazed by people like you and others who write for the SGF Co-op and all the work you must do to live such a way of life as you do. It's good to hear you say that the reality is a lot of work, and constant work, though satisfying and rewarding. I did always wonder why they call it the simple life, lol.

Kathy P. said...

As with other commenters, my transition is still a work in progress, but so far what I've found is that it's a simple matter training myself to remember to work sustainability critera into my decisions, then one-by-one replacing old habits with new ones. The weird thing is, my life doesn't feel any different. I think - unfortunately - most people think "going green" means switching to "sustainably made" useless crap, or it means deprivation. Neither is true of course.

The reality is that living simply and more sustainably makes my time more valuable than money meaning I don't have to work as much. Turning my home back into a center of production rather than consumption has monetary value with an excellent return on investment. (Although gov't GDP bean counters don't see it that way at all. Simple living production is invisible to them.) In fact, it's allowed me to live on so much less money that I'm seriously thinking about early retirement.

Maybe that's the angle we have to take. Forget saving the planet. Just do this and you can quit your job sooner than you thought. Hmmm....

Theanne said...

the simple life is not simple...it's difficult and even more difficult in a world that does not yet recognize the simple life! so many still clinging to a life that embraces a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot, when some are trying to live simply with a bicycle and vegetables! I'm not sure I could give up my automobile...I have doctor appointments that are fairly far away, but I do think I could walk to the grocery! I need to give more REAL thought to how I can live more simply!

Attila said...

I've never had enough money to be a rampant consumer! I've always had to watch fuel bills so that I could afford to pay them, always had to recycle, repair, revamp in order to furnish my home because at times buying any furniture at all was impossible. But I look at my life so far and I am happy with what I have achieved and with what I have and I am not jealous of anyone who is richer than me because I am truly rich.

Christine said...

"We found that the extra work had meaning more than any other work we had tried, and was worthy of our time, because it made us feel better."

Great post!! This has been my experience, as well. Meaningful work, however laborious, is much more enjoyable for me than what most other people do for fun.

Kim said...

What you are saying Gavin has been on my thoughts alot...in order to 'begin' our simple life , we are working two jobs and doing a kind of juggling act in order to get to the life we want.
The road to simplicity does require efforts in deep thought, hard work and committment. But oh boy is it worth it!

Joanne said...

Well, when you consider that society got where it did by embracing "convenience" and "time saving devices", it makes sense that going back to growing and making your own will take more time and effort. So I guess I always knew it wouldn't be 'simple'. And as my other half hasn't had an epiphany just yet, we kind of have a foot in both camps. I find it all to easy to slip back to 'convenient' at hectic times of life.
I tend to thing of the changes I've made in terms of 'meaningful, purposeful and thoughtful' rather than simple. Don't just blindly follow or do because I've always done it or everyone else does it. Slow down, think, decide, then do.

frazzledsugarplummum said...

Thanks for the great thoughts. We started a couple of years ago with one vine and now the whole backyard is full of beds and other yummies. It has been a whole new wonderful experience for at least one of my children, who has found his calling and I: my son now wants to do this for his life work. I've never had the funds to do anything more than 'reduce, reuse, tecycle' etc but it makes me feel good to know that I am doing something bigger than just being broke.

Linda Woodrow said...

The simple life is not simple! It is skilled, complex, interesting, rewarding, satisfying, real, but it isn't simple. Permaculture ideas say that simple is hard and vulnerable. Complexity is resilient and self-sustaining. Stable natural systems aren't simple - they're a complex web of interactions that mesh so that every part is supported in dozens of ways, and has dozens of functions. The simple life is a bit like that.

Anonymous said...

I'm so pleased that someone else commented that the "simple life" is not simple! I am often bewildered by that term- when it seems to be a little ironic. Perhaps the word simple should not be used and it it should just be referred to as trying to live a more self sustainable lifestyle- because it is actually really hard work. It is less convenient, more time consuming and, let's face it, sometimes less cost effective as well. It requires you to build skills, to do without, and to get creative with what you have. It doesn't mean it's not without its rewards... but it is certainly a long way for simple!

Brittany said...

Some of it has come very naturally and has been fairly easy to learn and other things take a bit of perserverance but it remains so very worth it. This life is such a happy life and I would much rather be doing it than anything else. Something I believe is really important is to pace yourself and not try to take on too much at once. When we told our family of the changes we wished to make they seemed to expect us to be cranking out tons of veggies or giving them a knitted item every holiday that came around. This journey takes time and the ability to pace yourself, only then do we not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed and can devote the time it takes to learn and become efficient at a new skill.

Kristy said...

"We found that the extra work had meaning more than any other work we had tried, and was worthy of our time, because it made us feel better"

Spot on. And ~that~ is the kinda work I am after.

Cadence said...

Agreed. I love my life...but boy am I busy!