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Monday, September 19, 2011

Four Shirts and a Pair Of Pants - an Experiment in Simple Living


For most of my adult life I've been struggling with how to simplify things.  Everything from how much "stuff" I have to how many hours a week I work to how many hobbies and activities I pursue.

This summer I have been living a "simplification" experiment as I work 4 days/week at the Big Farm in WI, taking with me only the basic necessities for the week ahead. 

Four work shirts, a pair of work pants, a warm long-sleeved shirt, a cooler packed with food for the week, one bowl, one fork, one knife, one skillet.

There are a few other things - minimal toiletries, a warm jacket, gloves, a hat. And of course my computer gear, for my "real" job.

I have been doing this for over three months now.  And you know what?  I haven't missed any of my "stuff" at home. 

Not once.

Not only has my "stuff" been simplified, so have my routines.  After I arrive home (in MN) Wed. evenings, I throw the weeks' worth of clothes into the wash.  When they're done, I fold them and put them right back into the suitcase.

{Yes I've worn the same 4 t-shirts over and over all summer.  And didn't die from it.}

We shop for groceries Fridays, prepare the weeks' meals Saturdays, freezing them in individual portions until Sunday when I leave again for WI.

Meals are, by necessity, simple. Breakfast quiche made from our own chicken eggs and herbs from our garden. Lunches and dinners are simple salads made up of locally-grown pastured meats that I precook and toss with fresh spinach greens and other organic veggies and local fruits.

My daily routines are also simplified. There are morning chores, then my computer work, then noon-hour chores, more computer time, then dinner and evening chores.  In exchange for chores, I get a bed in the bunkhouse, access to the kitchen and bathroom (and shower!), and boarding for two of my alpacas.

There is no "what's-for-dinner" angst anymore, as I have already pre-planned, pre-pared and pre-cooked all my meals. I reheat my daily portions in a tiny cast-iron skillet (my favorite cooking tool!) on the stove top in the bunkhouse kitchen while I prepare my salad. I'm not much of a salad person, but these salads are amazing.  After dinner, I wipe the skillet and rinse out my bowl and fork and I am done with dinner and cleanup.

Because I have so few, if any, distractions in the evenings, I am free to spend as much time as I want up on the steep hillsides of that lovely valley, watching the mama alpacas grazing in the cool of the dusk, keeping a close eye on on their babies (crias) who spend the time romping and chasing one another (something we call "pronking").  I hear them munching on grass, the quiet humming of mamas to their babies and to each other. I smell the sweet damp night air and fresh grass. 

At this time of the year, it doesn't take long for dusk to turn into night.  But I am not afraid. 

Me who was terrified of the dark for most of my adult life, will walk out into the pitch black night without a light, through gates and over electric fences, climb a hill and shut the chicken coop door while the coyotes howl and the chickens murmur ghost stories to each other into the night.

There is no rush to come back inside. All the chores of the day are already done.  If I could stay up on that hillside forever, believe me, I would.

The problem is, when you're up on a hilltop and all the world seems beautifully simple, eventually, you have to come back down that hill. If you're lucky, what awaits you at the bottom will be a cozy bunkhouse, a warm bed, and just enough "stuff" to make it through the week.

For most of us however, what awaits is usually a long list of chores and responsibilities that come from owning a house (or farm) that is probably more space (and acres) than we really need, filled with stuff that needs to be fixed, cleaned or taken care of, and debts that require both of you to work off the homestead and leave little time or energy to pursue what you really enjoy - family, friends, even the farm and animals themselves.

And yet, the images of my simple living experiment are never far from my mind.

When Papa Bear and I decided to check out rural WI as a potential place to set down roots, we had a clear vision in mind - a small parcel we could buy with cash, with a lot of daylight and a view of the sunset.  We felt we'd be happy with just 5 acres and no debt and no house at all (perhaps we'll live in an airstream trailer first and build a tiny house or grain bin home later with the cash we saved), and we can certainly grow a large garden and run a few animals on 5 acres and probably even find farmers in the area that would let us run a few more animals on their land in exchange for our labor.

Since we first started visiting properties a year ago, that vision hasn't changed.  What has changed is other peoples' perceptions of what we should want or need. 

Instead of a small parcel for cash, we're being encouraged to look at big beautiful farms that come with  big scary mortgages and require two incomes to support. Farms that would easily eat up all our free time  AND cash. 

Sure, it would be pretty cool to own a 40-acre farm.  But, is that what we really wanted, or needed, or asked for?

How much is enough?  How much land?  How much house?  How much debt?

My experiment this summer has given me a glimpse of a much simpler way. A way that allows for us to work in community rather than solitarily, to work collaboratively rather than everyone recreating the same wheel.

And what I have learned is that when we can work together in community with others to ensure that not only our needs are met but so are our neighbors, what we really need is far, far less than what we think we need.  When we pool our resources and help each other, we all grow exponentially. 

So that even a little bit of land can feel like an empire. 

And even a little bit of land can be simply, "enough."


Jess said...

Beautiful, beautiful post!

I've often read stories of minimalist challenges, owning 100 items challenges, stuff like that. So inspiring. Every time I pare my own junk down, I realize how far I have to go.

Victoria Strauser said...

Thank you! Yes, I have read of those also and it always inspires me. I just started an inventory of my personal belongings - wow, I'm not very far and the items are adding up quick. Lots to do here!

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