1 year on from my Walden experience of living off-grid in 100 sq ft for 1 year in 2 countries, 2 continents, 2 hemispheres, I have returned to living in a house.
The experience influenced my choice of house and it is a modest 1500 sqft, which is still too large but was the smallest I could find at the time. Houses have gotten larger and nothing under 50 years old seems small.
But what I have retained from the experience? what have I discarded as impractical?
Thoreau spent 2 years, 2 months and 2 days in his (not so secluded) cabin in Emerson’s back yard near Walden Pond. It then took him 7 years before he redacted his experience into the book ‘Walden: Life in the Woods’.
So, while the experience of living in a small space stays with me and has influenced me, the full effect of it is still developing. The lifestyle which showed its possibilities to me may take some to fully weave into a practical version of everyday life.
There are some practical points which I retain:
Use of energy.
I am ever so aware of what it takes to gather and/or produce one’s own energy – or how much it takes to run a simple thing like a refrigerator. I had a propane fridge, but had to cart the 20lb propane tanks from town – how I wish there was an easier way to keep food cold! I generated all my own power and though I found it was possible, it wasn’t without finding lower powered ways to do things and cutting things out like toasters, microwaves and electric stoves.
I have shunned all unnecessary appliances since then. I still live with no tv, no washer/dryer. I have AC and a dishwasher but never use them. I did welcome back the toaster and microwave, however. Of course there would be substitutes for these but I do like my toast and the convenience of the microwave, which, of course, in some cases, is a most economical appliance to use. I have a stereo but find I never use it now. I have a bunch of power woodworking tools but still reach for the handtools whenever possible. Basically, I’m afraid of becoming reliant on an unsustainable solution. Learning the skills with handtools empowers me to make and build things independent of the availability of and price of power. I like the idea of being plunked down in the middle of the forest and being able to create the comforts of a home with nothing but my skills and some basic tools. ( I often think of the genesis set of tools to own – what set of tools would you need to recreate civilization?)
The chainsaw, however, is indispensable. I only lament the day when fuel is not cheap. I wonder what will run it in that case. Fossil fuels are incredibly fuel dense. I wish we would all understand how powerful it is and revere it more and see how wasteful we are of this precious resource. What will we think when there is no fuel left to do useful work and think back on how we squandered it driving a powerboat, or atv or SUV, or cutting useless grass etc.
I am also having a woodstove installed this fall, so I can reduce my reliance of stove fuel, seeing as I have abundant access to wood. It’s also a backup in case the power goes out (in which case, you have heaps of fuel but no way to run a furnace!)
The lesson of having no garbage pickup for 1 year stays with me. I recycle everything I can, I compost almost everything else and what is left over is always, always, unrecyclable plastic packaging! I am conscious of this when I shop but also I had learned the lesson that basic ingredients is the most important thing to have around the household and learning to make things yourself, such as bread, soap, pies, soups and so on. Consuming little to no processed foods helps to cut down trash tremendously but also adds to your flexibility. No need to panic if the pancake mix runs out – I know how to make my own and there is always flour, water, eggs and milk on hand in the fridge or pantry. (Some might say, why not run out to the grocery store? Well, once again I am about 50km (30miles) from the nearest store of any significance – you think twice about running out to get a gallon of milk!)
What does this have to do with gardening you say? Well, a lot, actually. Gardening, plants, trees, nature plays a huge role in the ability to live a simpler lifestyle. After all, it is nature which gives us an abundant source of resources, from which everything in our modern lives is derived.
I recently watched a short video on a couple living in California, who are homesteading on their tiny plot of land in LA. It resonated with me. A lot of what they do, what they have discovered and the lifestyle they have carved out for themselves over the years seems to fit all of the same conclusions I have come to since then.
Several poignant points from the video (paraphrased- watch it to get the actual transcript)
Self-sufficiency is an impossible goal. Humans are by nature, social and we will always work together and trade to have everything we need. Stop worrying about doing it all by yourself – it’s impossible.
Home economics was a basic thing we learned in school. Only since after WWII did Home Economics become lessons on how to be good consumers, rather than how to run an economic household by learning how to be frugal and DIY. This is changing now.
The most poignant thought: We have to relearn and return to making the home, a household of ‘generation’ rather than a household of consumption. The household should be a factory of production, not consumption. It should be producing water, food, energy, abundance.
The video says it so well, that I leave you to watch it – it summarizes the direction I think we must all head in in the age of decreasing growth, consumption and peak everything.
-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau