Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seeking simplicity

Red blackberries (or perhaps logan berries?) - these are just ripening, ahead of the blackberries. They taste like tart raspberries and I'm thinking that they'll make a amazing pie or jam.

As I sit here and type this on a fancy laptop, using wireless internet, while drinking imported coffee (sort of – imported from Hawaii) and wearing New Zealand wool…I can’t help but feel like a bit of a hypocrite. A big part of our ‘Simple Metamorphosis” is the idea of simplicity. Scaling back on things to make life simpler and ultimately, easier. This sounds like a virtuous endeavor, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of this movement for me was disposing of the ‘disposable’ lifestyle. This means that I refuse to buy clothing items that fall apart after a few washings or tools/equipment that are not built to last. Sometimes this means buying things that are not made in the USA. If I can find local products to rival the quality of the products I am buying from overseas, then I’m willing to spend a little more. Unfortunately, it’s often not a cost issue, but an availability issue. We bought a cream separator made in India because it was the only hand-crank one we could find. I have a lot of clothing from Ibex and they source their wool from New Zealand (though many of the items were at least made in the US) because there is just not as much US wool available (though, this is changing). I figure that buying one, good quality item once (even if made overseas) is better than buying a crappy item and having to replace it over and over again as the discarded versions end up in a landfill.

In addition, I struggle with wanting to use hand tools for everything. I’d like to always choose a whisk instead of a mixer, a hoe instead of a tiller, a bicycle instead of a car, a paint brush instead of a sprayer, and a goat instead of a lawn mower. The problem arises in our ever too dwindling time. Doing everything by hand takes much longer. And goats don’t mow lawn very well, either. ;-) So in trying to find a balance between work and play and between the office and the farm, we’ve made some compromises lately. In retrospect, I think we’ve done a little too much compromising. I can joke that we are ‘stimulating’ the economy, but in reality, we are getting away from our original purpose.

In the past month, we’ve bought a gas-powered weed trimmer (the rechargeable electric one held a charge for a whopping 15 minutes!), a riding lawn mower and a power painter. We are also talking about buying a gas-powered chain saw because when H gets the opportunity to go ‘logging’ with our neighbor for firewood, our plug-in electric one is not going to work. While all of these tools have saved us massive amounts of time (particularly the painter) that can now be spent on other pursuits, it’s still hard to come to terms with the consumerist spin that our life has taken, lately.

How does one effectively simplify? I guess that in our case, selling the farm would help. We could get out from under the mortgage that forces us both to keep our existing jobs. If we didn’t have that debt, living off a small farm income might be possible. Of course, having sold the farm, we wouldn’t have that small farm income to rely on, would we? We could continue as we are (with two full time jobs), working towards a day in the future where the mortgage is paid off, but to manage both, we need to make some compromises (like buying time-saving tools). There isn’t much else that we could do without – we have internet because my husband works from home, so it’s required. Our only magazine subscription is to Mother Earth News (the other two we get: Cooks Illustrated and National Geographic are gift subscriptions). We can’t give up our social life, our travel, our ‘toys’…because we don’t have any. We can’t consolidate debts to pay them off better because we don’t have much else besides the mortgage.

When I break it down into its small parts, it’s obvious that we are living pretty simply for a typical American couple with two incomes. I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with doing the best we can as we strive to improve. I’ll take solace in the fact that nothing we’ve bought has been superfluous…and that someday, when neither of us has full time jobs, we can work towards cutting our grass with a scythe and washing our laundry by pounding it with rocks in the stream.

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