Monday, February 22, 2010

Homesteading as a moral commitment

“I’d love to do what you’re doing,” we sometimes hear, followed by the inevitable “but.” There are people who say they would love to live a more self-sufficient life, to be off-the-grid, to homestead out in the country, growing their own food and living a more intentional life. Many of these individuals are sincere and do wish to break free of their enslavement to a social and economic system that holds them tightly in its grasp, but how many of them will ever move on their desires?

It was very encouraging recently to come into contact with a man and his family who earnestly desire to become modern day homesteaders. I will do anything and everything I can to help them realize their dreams (and whomever else). This family’s desire is not just a passing fancy; they are serious and are doing things now to make it a reality. Unfortunately, most of the people I’ve heard express affinity for what my family and I are doing are most likely never going to do it. They have a romantic notion of “the simple life” (which ain’t so simple) but they value some things too highly to give them up to see their notions become reality.

Recently, in passing I mentioned that living a homesteading life requires a moral commitment, but I didn’t elaborate on that point. Basically, the morality of the situation resides in believing it is good/better to pursuing this particular way of living, an intentional life, as I like to call it. For us it is better to live without debt than to borrow money in order to have things which we may want but don’t need, realizing the difference between wants and needs. It is right to invest our energy and labor in providing as much as we can for ourselves rather than relying on industrial mechanisms to make things available for us via an exchange of my labor in the form of dollar bills. Being together and working together as a family is more highly valued than having enough money to provide a bigger home and more things at the expense of family. These are all moral choices that guide our way of life.

You can examine anyone’s life and begin to see what they value. You can do that with my life and find things that reveal moral commitments I should change (I need to be examining my life for this purpose, actually). For instance, if one values things over relationships, this is evident. Granted, some do not see any other way to live than the usual, standard way of living that is all around us; they’ve been conditioned and trained to accept life on terms that they did not create. Intentionally changing the terms upon which we live our lives requires discernment, seeing how we live in its bare, naked form, for what it is.

Western culture and economics dictate a certain way of life, one that I find morally problematic in many ways. Until I had opportunity and reason to question the context of modern life, I didn’t see this. As my eyes opened to the problems of our socio-economic system, I was challenged with the responsibility of making a choice about what to do. Should I go along with what I understand is wrong but which is difficult to disentangle myself from (the easier path)? Or, should I act upon my understanding and choose to change the circumstances of my life, living in opposition to much of the socio-economic order surrounding me? That’s a tough place to be, but one in which everyone makes a choice. Even choosing not to decide is still to make a choice.

We are surrounded by romantic notions of rural/farm life and the good old days. Most of these notions are not in sync with the reality of rural/farm life as it exists today. Examine the packaging in the grocery store to see the images that are sold to us, images that draw upon our romantic notions. These are a part of our social psyche, but they are not based upon current reality. These are powerful images that when we buy things from the grocery store may help us feel good about what we’re buying and eating and keep us from seriously considering the real conditions of production. They are evidence, though, of the power of our notions and their very real existence.

I think it is these same kinds of romantic notions which lead people to say they would love to live a self-sufficient life but to never make changes in their lives to realize at least part of that desire. Being a homesteader doesn’t always mean owning a chunk of rural property with enough room to raise a large garden and a menagerie of animals. However, it does mean making choices and decisions in our lives that separate us from the hegemony of the socio-economic system in which we are all enslaved. It means frugality. It means doing as much for yourself and your family as you can. It means taking increasing responsibility for your life in meaningful ways within the current sphere of your existence. It’s a process, not a destination.

I wish to encourage all who want to homestead to take steps right now to realize their desires. However small the steps may be, start taking some now. Limit your consumption of industrially produced products by making do with what you have or making for yourself. Focus on and prioritize those things which are more meaningful, like time together as a family playing and working. Grow a tomato plant in a pot. Preserve some of your own food. Make your choices more intentional with a goal of realizing your dreams/desires one step at a time.

There’s nothing wrong with romantic notions. They can guide and motivate us. We need to take responsibility for our our actions, for the moral choices we make every day, with an end in view, not because it is a romantic notion, but because it is a better way to live. Our moral commitments are revealed in what we do. What does what we’re each doing say about us and our values?

8 comments:

Kelle

Absolutely great post! It is absolutely the "romantic notion" that draws people in, but it needs to be an entire change in our thinking and way of daily life. I've seen people go into homesteading under the guise of romantic notions and let me tell you it is a rude awakening and sadly they end up moving back into their former way of living.
I agree it is a better way to live, but coming from the easy way of living, it is a hard transition, but if the mindset is truly changed there will be success.

The most important thing is to take it slow, small steps, otherwise it will be overwhelming and disappointing. One also has to be able to deal with failures and rather than let it defeat them, rethink/ seek help and try again.

Even as we live our Agrarian way of life, growing and raising our own animals, using less energy/ breaking free of the grid, good stewardship of the land and water,etc.... we know in the back of our mind we have it far easier than our ancestors, the true homesteaders. Remembering that always grounds us and makes us strive to be humble as well.
Thanks for sharing.

dp

I appreciate your comments, Kelle. It is a process toward becoming self-sufficient, a journey with a goal in mind. And, yes, we do have it a lot easier in many ways than our ancestors, although they didn't have some of the distractions that we have.

When we first came to this area of KY, we met a couple who had been homesteading here for 5 years after a few years in the upper peninsula of MI. The lady made the comment that she could usually tell when she met a family that wanted to homestead whether or not they would make it (romantic notions tempered by realism), and she knew we would be fine. She also said that in her experience most of the ones that didn't make it was because of the wife -- a harder transition for her, usually. Living and working together toward this goal can either strengthen or try a couple's relationship; problems that surface aren't caused by this "simple" life but are, rather, revealed by it.

With all of the challenges and hard work, it is still a better way of life. We are very blessed to be on this journey, pioneering a way for others to follow (while following others' footsteps ourselves).

Sandra

Although we don't live off the grid, we do live out in the country raising our own animals to eat, grow gardens for our food, homeschool and do everything ourselves. We too have people tell us they wish they could live simple like we do. There is so much to enjoy and people are wasting their lives on video games and the worlds entertainment. I just found your blog this morning and I like it!

dp

Welcome, Sandra! I'm glad you found my blog, especially if it can bless you and your family in any way. There is so much that the standard American lifestyle in its pursuit of riches and stuff is missing out on. I'd much rather have the richness of family while working hard at home on our own projects, not slaving away my days pursuing a paycheck to pay off debts.

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm

This is such a great post! You are so right in saying it is a lifestyle change and takes a great deal of commitment. It is hard work and should be taken on slowly.

We moved to a small farm about three years ago and are working towards a more self sufficient lifestyle now, a little at a time.

It is ahrd work but so rewarding! We love it!

dp

There's nothing wrong with hard work. In fact, I think it's good for us to work hard, and there is a decided difference between working for your own family and working for someone else. Being with and working with family is a much greater choice, well worth doing without other socially valued things in order to have that richness.

Jesse McLaughlin

Thanks for this post. I love it. My wife and I are considering this and this writeup really describes us at this point. We raise chickens now and are gardening, but we are used to the easy life. I have a great job and can get what I need. A family we have been talking with extensively about this has a much better vision and willingness to "go all in" than we do at this point. I am struggling with the moral commitment side to this as I can't settle on it. There are days where I am sure that living this way is what God would want us to do, and then the next day that He would revile me for thinking this way.

Anyways, we will be reading/learning from you. Thanks for your words.

dp

Jesse, you're welcome for my words. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your thoughts. I, of course, believe this is the way that God wants for us. There are spiritual lessons and many blessings embedded in our everyday work and our life together as a family. The culture around us does not emphasize and support family relationships and work the way God desires, IMO. Continue to learn and seek what the path that is right for you and your family. Most importantly, be true to your convictions.

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