About Living a Simple Life
This blog is about “voluntary simplicity”. That can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To me it means not complicating my life by desiring things I don’t need, which have to be paid for by doing things I don’t like.
What does “Rethinking Voluntary Complexity” mean?
We voluntarily clutter up our lives. We voluntarily jump on the work-consume-work treadmill. Nobody forces us to buy the newest plasma-screen television and have 300+ channels of TV beamed down by satellite. Nobody forces us to trade in a perfectly-working vehicle for the newer model every five years. There are no rules saying we have to live in a gigantic home at the end of a culdesac in order to raise happy children, or that we have to move up the corporate ladder in order to be considered successful. Maybe you really like television. Some of us are film buffs! The point is not that TV is bad, or that a new car is bad. The point is that it is our CHOICE to make, and sometimes – on the road to happiness – it helps to stop and ask ourselves (to re-think) the hard questions. Is it really a choice I’m making, or am I being persuaded by hype, media, the Joneses… Are my buying decisions conscious or habitual? Do I get to spend enough time with my family? Could we still get by on less money if I worked fewer hours and cut out some of what we don’t need? Am I living the life I want to live, or am I just being swept along with the flow of time and the winds of change?
Our tag-line is obviously a play on the familiar phrase “voluntary simplicity”. To seek voluntary simplicity implies that you are shedding your life of all baggage and getting down to the most basic of essentials. To merely rethink voluntary complexity only implies that you’re stopping long enough to ask some important questions about your life and how you want to live it.
Background / About Everett
I first started thinking about voluntary simplicity when I was working in cubicle at an eCommerce company (Gaiam) in Denver / Boulder, Colorado. While I’d like to say the desire to live a more simple life came from some sort of altruistic motive, like saving the environment, the fact is I just don’t like struggling financially, and I don’t like working on someone else’s terms. I want to be working on whatever I feel like working on whenever I feel like working on it – and to be doing something else I enjoy when I don’t feel like working.
While sitting in that cubicle one day analyzing a bunch of search engine data, I started to question why I was there in the first place. Hadn’t I been much happier with just whatever would fit into my backpack as I worked my way through other countries? Hadn’t I felt the most free during those times when I had the least? No. In fact, anyone who says that probably hasn’t ever had to wonder where their next meal would come from, or how they would pay for gas to get to work. Being poor sucks. That’s why I was working in that cubicle.
Luckily the answer to both of my problems (a job I hated and money I needed) could be found in homesteading and voluntary simplicity. Missy (my partner at the time) and I started an urban homestead in Denver in 2009. I began learning everything I could about how to be self-sufficient. We made our own soap, cheese and yogurt. We hung our laundry, raised bees and chickens, and grew a lot of our fresh vegetables. We canned, composted and counted our pennies. But nothing changed. I was still working in the cubicle because – despite what Mother Earth News was telling us – it’s damned expensive to live in the city, no matter how much zucchini you can eat.
So we moved to a small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of rural southwest Virginia to “go back to the land”. We refurbished old barn furniture, got more chickens, planted another garden, pruned the apple trees and grape vines… I started learning about pastures and Missy started making her own clothes and patching up all of mine. We split a beef (cow) with a neighbor. I butchered chickens, turkeys and deer. We started grinding grain, baking bread, making lip balm, and pressing oils. We had all of the meat and summer / fall veggies we could want. But I was still working in my home office all day wishing I was out there building a fence instead of staring at an Excel spreadsheet. I was surrounded by images of “the simple life” but was still part of the machine. We spent money paying people to do stuff I wanted to do myself for free, but didn’t have the time to do, or at least not the time to gain the skills to do.
Instead of recognizing the real problems and dealing with them we did what any sane city slickers who were unhappy and over their heads would do: We got pregnant, sold our 15.5 acre farm and bought a 38 acre farm.
About a year into the next property I started getting pretty bad work-related anxiety. My new fancy position as “Director of SEO Strategy” at a marketing firm in Denver, despite only being 32 hours a week, started to get very difficult. I kept freezing up. I just couldn’t do my job anymore. My subconscious had had enough. It was fed up with my inability to learn a lesson, and with my propensity to make the same mistakes over and over again. I felt like I was tied up and drowning while everyone was telling me how lucky I was. Then it hit me. I had a choice. If I was unhappy it was because of the decisions I had made, and continued to make.
One of those decisions was to buy a 38-acre dream property (for us, though to some higher class folks it’s just a run down old farmhouse in a gully. While selling the place we found out that ‘dream property’ is very relative) and to have a mortgage on it. Did I want to work for the next 30 years to pay for a property I can’t take care of while working a full-time job? No. I don’t need a charming old farm house. I don’t need 38 acres. I don’t need a nice two-story barn, or a workshop, or an observatory. I don’t need to be only 12-minutes from town.
So I cashed in my 401k and took a three-month unpaid leave up absence from work. We decided to sell the house and get our equity back. Missy and I also decided to separate (No, don’t be sorry. It is mutually thought of as a good thing. We are much better friends than spouses). Now I live (with my son part of the time) in a small cabin while saving up to buy a little manufactured home on 15 acres near my friend Tommy.
Right now I don’t have running water. I don’t have electricity. My “toilet” is a wooden box, a bucket and some sawdust. I heat with wood, and often cook with it (though I have a propane camp stove). Light comes from oil lanterns and a lamp connected to a deep cycle battery I recharge weekly. Water is carried in every few days in two five-gallon water coolers. My “refrigerator” is a cooler, and ice I get from my neighbor.
For the first time in a long time I feel like I am actually living life on my own terms. While I still have certain responsibilities (like an awesome kid, necessities, health insurance…) I am free to make a choice as to how I meet them. For example, I can work on my own websites more and client sites less. I can spend more time writing. A lot of options open up when you can live on less.
In the long run I would like to have running water (gravity-fed from a spring, preferably) and a real toilet (septic system), but I have everything I currently need. This is where I am right now, and I am contented probably for the first time in my adult life.
Yes, “the simple life” does mean something different to everyone. Sometimes spouses can’t even agree on the same definition, and even your own view of voluntary simplicity evolves over time. If past and future selves can’t agree, I can’t attempt to define it on this blog. What I can say from experience is that it isn’t as easy to attain as one might think, despite the word “simple”. But if you really want it, keep trying. Keeping walking toward simplicity one discarded, unnecessary “thing” at a time. We’ll get there. I have faith.