Powering Down

When we moved to our new house we left behind our dryer, dishwasher, microwave and TV. We are reducing, simplifying and powering down. I never really enjoyed living in the twenty-first century, and I have realised recently that actually, I don't have to if I don't want to. When I was a child I read Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables and the Billabong books and thought, "That's how I want to live," but then I grew up and it felt like rather an impractical fantasy. But now I am forty-five and life is uncertain and I have decided I can and will live exactly however I want to.

And what I want to do is to live in a way that won't make other people miserable. That so many people half a world away are living miserable lives so that I can have convenience and stuff seems very wrong. And the fact the habitats all over the world are being destroyed and our planet's climate is changing for the same reason is outrageous.

So my question to myself and my girls is this: How can we live a rich and fulfilling life using as few resources as possible?

It shouldn't actually be that hard. As I look around I see a natural world just full to overflowing with bounty, if only we could see it and use it and share it. And there is a world of 'stuff' out there that nobody wants because it is not new and shiny, but is perfect for wombles like me. There are artists and crafters making marvellous things that are not the product of making anyone miserable. Also, there are so many resources that are not 'things'. Like friends and sharing and the knowledge in people's heads, and making music and how snuggling on the couch with a small black dog can make such a difference at the end of a hard day.

Of course, I don't live in the nineteenth century on a prairie or on Prince Edward Island or on a large Australian cattle property. I live in a small cottage with a small garden in the middle of a small city. It's all about small with me. I can't be self-sufficient, and don't want to be. I want to live as most of us humans do, as part of a non-intentional community of the neighbours that happen to be around at the time, plus a network of friends and family, in whatever town or suburb we find ourselves in. Many of us want to live the 'good life' in some distant dreamy future in some perfect setting, but I am pretty sure the good life is available right where we live with whoever we live with. I want to find out if that is the case anyway. I think often we get on a treadmill of living mindlessly according to the culture we are part of and can't imagine that it is possible to live any other way. But it is. It must be, because we can't keep on living the way we are.

I have come some way along the path to thinking about living differently and ethically but I want to see how far I can go down that road. Still, convenience is convenience, and I often need a nudge away from the easy and towards adventure.That's where you-all are so important to me. You, my blog people, are one of my best resources for change, due to your wisdom, experience, great ideas and general loveliness and I am looking forward to some excellent conversations with you on creating a happy, ethical life.

Tell me about the life you want to live and how you would like to get there...


Anonymous said…
Funnily enough Chaos has just realised we actually live in a small house. I don't think it's that small - it's twice the size of the one I used to live in, but yeah, 9 squares was a bit small for three (then four) of us. 18sq is much more civilised. And enough. (Although don't hold me to that when the lads are hulking six foot plus monsters cluttering up the kitchen, Currently, it's big enough that they can both have mates over and not be under each other's or my feet) I'm aiming for contentment generally. I find the constant striving for happiness to be stressful and completely overrated. Being content with my lot is much more pleasing.
Anonymous said…
In one of Jeff Yeager's books, I found the best advice ever, which I try to live by: identify a standard of living that I can afford comfortably, and never upgrade my lifestyle. Remind myself I have enough. Don't spend more and own more if I receive pay increases or windfalls of any kind. I have a small house which is paid for and I have spent a lot on improving its energy efficiency, and maintaining its quality so I don't need sweeping renovations later. I can continue living here until I am too old to keep it up. Having more, bigger, better doesn't interest me. Cozy is good! PS I am sure you know that Prince Edward Island (in my part of the world) has all the mod cons, right? :)
fran7narf said…
We are just about to embark (over the approaching school holidays) on a huge project that will change how we garden for food on our property. We think we have found a very cheap way to grow food that is incredibly water wise, will not involve me standing in the garden watering at 4.30am for 2 hours and that will improve our yields. The only way we were able to come up with this customised idea for our own space and conditions was through heading out to the internet and seeing what other people (in similar conditions) have done to solve their problems. There is an incredible wealth of information out there and quite a lot of it is free. Once we get over the flu we are going to get out there and rake our elderly neighbours oak leaves. She used to rake and burn them (she likes her lawn) but we asked her if we could rake them and use them and now we have lots of excellent mulch materials for free. That old saying "One man's trash is another man's treasure" has never been more pertinent than now. Learning to make the most of what you have or can get cheaply or free and that won't hurt the environment is liberating and gives you a sense of satisfaction that can't be beaten. I often wish we lived in a small house in the middle of suburbia (NO POSSUMS AND WALLABIES! ;) ) but we do love our freedom and space out here in the sticks. Loving your new series of posts Ms Jo :)
Unknown said…
Excellent food for thought Jo. In fact i think im still feeling hungry so please, may i have some more (she says in her best Oliver Twist voice).

What to do when you stand alone in a family of extreme consumers? My vision of an alternative lifestyle seems impossible.
very thought provoking. your post jo coincides with some thinking if mine about what I want or DON'T want from life, regardless of whether that means going against modern conventional practices. thank you. e
Jo said…
Miss Maudy, ah, yes, contentment. It is a remarkably underrated virtue in a society where we are always supposed to be striving for something. Currently I have a very pleasant and stress-free job which pays me enough to live on, but isn't a glamorous career by any means, and I do have to admit to feeling a slight sense of guilt that I should be doing better for myself, but then I have to slap myself on the forehead and remind myself that 'stress-free', 'pleasant' and 'enough' are the words I want to live by.. and as for houses, small and efficient is good in my book. So much less cleaning:)

Dar, again, that word 'enough'. I love it. It implies a dignified restraint. My Grandma Hazel used to ask us after a meal if we had had an 'elegant sufficiency'. I think I will be aiming for an elegant sufficiency in life. And like you, yes, an efficient house. Yesterday I had underfloor heating put in under the only raised part of the house, and today I have a handy person putting some timber around a very draughty door to make it more weather tight.

And, ha, yes, I was referring to PEI circa Anne of Green Gables, likewise prairies and Australian cattle stations which no doubt also have electricity and mobile phone coverage these days..

Fran, I can't wait to see your new growing system. I love your bravery in trying new things; you are one of the new pioneers:) Speaking of wallabies, I nearly tripped over one when delivering Rosy to hockey training last night, and there are possums up the street, so impossible to escape them (although truthfully I have never had either eating my vegie seedlings in my suburban back yard, thankfully)..

Lynda, I speak as someone who caved into extreme pressure this morning and bought her youngest daughter both a mango smoothie in a plastic cup AND clothes from an actual shop that were made under who-knows-what conditions. However we recycled the cup and brought our purchases home in a reusable bag. We do what we can.

We live in families who aren't us and don't think like us. I talk to the children all the time about what I think about life and how I feel about what is happening in the world, but I don't expect them to go along with all my ideas because I am me and they are them.

I know you have done all sorts of great things at your place - grown vegies on the lawn and recycled and rebuilt things that you have found. Your family may have strong opinions, but you owe it to yourself to be the person you want to be. You control what you wear, what you buy for yourself, what you eat, and you never know, maybe as you consistently exercise your choices in life, your family will be a tiny bit influenced. But even if not, you will feel like you yourself are heading in the direction you want to go, and this is very important, because it will make you feel powerful and happy.

The alternative is to let them influence you by their choices and go along with them because frankly, it's easier to go with the flow. But where's the fun in that? I say, love your family, accept them as they are, but move forward and be the person you want to be. They may not like that, but you are strong enough to insist that they accept you as you are as well.. and you never know, they may surprise you by developing an interest in cheese-making or building furniture out of kerbside finds:)

Jo said…
e, I have been percolating these thoughts for some years, on and off. Progress is such a sacred cow in our society, and those of us who don't want to embrace it wholeheartedly are not really encouraged in our Luddite madness. But now I am thinking, "Well, why not?" We know it is what we have to do anyway to live sustainably, but we are a little ahead of the curve because everyone is still living as if they believe the earth's potential for giving us whatever we want is limitless. There are many, many people who are just saying NO and I want to be one more of them..
Alicia said…
Great post, I've been thinking a lot about this lately too, probably always have, but it seems more urgent to me now. I've been taking a lot of inspiration from the minimalist movement and zero waste/plastic free movement (a life long process, not something that can just happen with the click of fingers!), as well as the Artist as Family blog/book, and David Holmgren's site (they work together), and heaps of other blogs including your own of course! When you delve deep enough, you realise just how much we in the western world need to simplify, so that we can all inhabit this great planet. Can't wait for more blog posts!
Jo said…
Alicia, welcome! Funnily enough I have just read The Art of Free Travel by the Artist as Family, and looked at their blog. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed peeking at yours this morning. What a wonderful garden. And bees! Posy has been nagging me for months for a beehive, and I keep having to say, "It's on the list, darling, just down a ways.." I have promised bees before she leaves home. She is eleven so that gives me a little leeway..

We do need to simplify! And we can. And what excites me about that is that lower expectations and cultivating contentment will make all of our lives easier and happier..
Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

That was beautifully expressed and written. Your blog is a true delight and I wish you well on your journey. Incidentally, the weatherboards on the side of the house in the photo look about spot on to me and the paint looks very solid.

I've heard about that self sufficiency thingee, and I must say that it does not appear to be a very pleasant concept. Anyway, it takes a village, to sort of raise, well, a village. The old Russian's used to say: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And I reckon that is some excellent advice.

Mark Twain, who was a pretty smart dude who wrote: “I do not wish any reward but to know I have done the right thing.” What more could you ask for than that? Well, maybe a warm fire. Warm fires are good! Actually, they are pretty nice really on a cold and damp winters night. Not to make you jealous, however I am cooking a week’s worth of toasted muesli in the wood oven this as this is penned. Yum! The slowly cooking honey smells beautiful. And it is so easy to make.


Anonymous said…
Jo, you write so delightfully simply but so deeply. I read your post on Friday night and have been thinking about it all weekend, popping in a couple of times to read the comments. You certainly have made people reflect on their life.

You are brave - to travel your own path and to do without those electrical conveniences. Your job is worthwhile and makes a difference to others. I often wonder about what a more glamorous job would be. Certainly I earn more money and my job may be necessary and there are bits that are fun, or exciting or affirming but it does gobble my life.

What I want is a life with more time. Mr S and I have been talking about how quickly the last 20 years have gone. We are going to do more travel before the next 20 disappears. I want time to read, learn a language, garden, fix up our home. I will continue to consume but continue to do so in a conscious manner, aware of what I being into the house and why I have obtained it.
Jo said…
Chris, I love that: It takes a village to raise a village. I will put that in my pipe and smoke it for a while..

I almost always let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I am trying to learn to calm down somewhat. Wish me luck.

Lucinda, I find it extraordinary that people come here and leave their very honest, very considered responses to the words that tumble out of my brain. I am very, very grateful because you all spur me on to action and new ideas.

I like your word 'aware'. You have clearly thought long and hard about how you want to spend the rest of your life, and I think maybe that using our hopes for our future as a guide, and staying aware of how what we do today always impacts the future, we will get a lot closer to the place we want to be. I hear you on the years disappearing. We must be getting old!!
Sherri said…
Hi Jo, those were some of my favourite childhood books too! I also loved Louisa May Alcott's books. I don't think I have ever been on the cultural treadmill of living mindlessly. I have always been that little bit quirky and whimsical. Change? I am always growing and changing and I start where I am and do what I can. I try not to get caught up in doing more and more and sometimes have to put the breaks on and remind myself to stop focusing on things not done and projects not yet started. I think the first step in creating a happy life is making the decision to be happy and to control my thoughts so I turn away from unhappy thoughts. Strangely, it is a first step I have to take again and again as life throws the occasional spanner in the works :-) I think to lead an ethical life one needs to decide what their ethics and values are and that becomes their own personal north star to lead them forward on their unique journey.
Jo said…
Sherri, I love your last line there:
I think to lead an ethical life one needs to decide what their ethics and values are and that becomes their own personal north star to lead them forward on their unique journey.

I am in the process of doing that very thing - nutting out exactly how it is that I want to live for the rest of my life, and using that guide as a 'personal north star' going forward. Thank you for that beautiful image:)
Meg said…
I have just read this blog post twice! These words are thoughtful words, Jo. I think it's a lovely thing to want to live in a way that does no harm to others:) My approach to things is to do what I can and to keep on learning. Teaching myself skills like sewing means I have started making my own clothes. Learning about soil and compost and plants has helped me build a productive garden. No, it doesn't supply all our food but it supplies some of it and means I've become that little bit more self sufficient.

I read somewhere recently that the question so many of us need to ask ourselves is not, "How can I get more happiness?" But, rather, "How can I make more happiness?" Since I read it, it has stayed with me and I find myself pondering it and asking myself that question now everyday. What can I do that could make more happiness not just for myself or my immediate family but for friends, complete strangers or people who live a world away with lives totally different to my own.


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