Keeping it simple, voluntarily
May 19, 2008 12:02 PM   Subscribe

"We want to be in clean country with like-minded people with access to clean food. . . . The question is, Do I have Internet access in the woods?" The New York Times has the story of an Austin family that has decided to give away almost all of their worldly possessions in exchange for a simpler more sustainable life. Could you do it?

Most folks credit Duane Elgin's book with giving rise to the Voluntary Simplicity movement, though some might argue Thoreau was a practitioner, and Helen and Scott Nearing were certainly modern pioneers. But could you simplify your life? Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world", but Gandhi never had an iPhone to give up.

Need inspiration?

The Good Life Center at Forest Farm

Helen and Scott Nearing's book, The Good Life (Excerpt)

Thoreau's book Walden

Other blogs and sites with helpful information:

The Simple Living Network

Simply Living

Off the Grid

Choosing Voluntary Simplicity

The Great River Earth Network

The Northwest Earth Institute

Cage Free Family The blog of the family featured in the Times article.
posted by Toekneesan (83 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Plus ça change...
posted by psmealey at 12:07 PM on May 19, 2008


Could you do it?

No. Sorry. But I'll be dead in fifty years, give or take, so you won't have to worry too much.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2008


But she said they had no tolerance for idleness or drugs. “Any state that can be induced by drugs, the mind and body are already capable of,” she said.

Pheh. Squares.
posted by psmealey at 12:13 PM on May 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


The moment you want to move to a place where there are "like-minded" people is the moment you've closed your mind and instead prefer have your opinions and worldview go unchallenged. You won't learn anything about the world or yourself from "like-minded people". Except maybe self-loathing.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:15 PM on May 19, 2008 [21 favorites]


Word up, Pastabagel. You know who else wanted to live in a clean country with like-minded people, don't you?
posted by Mister_A at 12:17 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


The NYT article hints that they have tons of internet $$$ in the bank. Please correct me if I'm wrong -- but drilling down into their blog, there is lots of earnest writing about how they're gonna give their crap away (and tons of beautiful photos of the wife and kids), but I can't find anything about how they're liquidating the contents of their brokerage accounts, IRAs, 401Ks, and 529 plans and donating them to charity. Until then, they're just a rich family on a kooky adventure. More power to 'em. I look forward to reading the article in Vanity Fair, and seeing the movie (starring Julia Roberts as Mom).
posted by turducken at 12:19 PM on May 19, 2008 [14 favorites]


The oil shortages hit, and the Return of the Back To The Land Movement is well underway. In only 10 short years we'll be hearing about how Greed is Good Again. And the circle of life continues...
posted by rusty at 12:20 PM on May 19, 2008 [8 favorites]


Fascist hippies!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:22 PM on May 19, 2008


Could you do it?

If I had to, as a point of survival? Yeah, sure.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:25 PM on May 19, 2008


In only 10 short years we'll be hearing about how Greed is Good Again.

Powered by cheap, cheap biodiesel and/or the completely revamped electrical grid?
posted by adamdschneider at 12:25 PM on May 19, 2008


Mr. Harris does have a concern, though. He now telecommutes from his job as a Web systems administrator and is hoping to stay employed through the move. “The question is, Do I have Internet access in the woods?” he said.

I am wondering why he was wondering why he got hostile messages posted to his blog.
posted by psmealey at 12:26 PM on May 19, 2008


Isn't this Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Back To The Land movement by now?
posted by echo target at 12:29 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


adamdschneider: no, probably still powered by cheap, cheap petroleum and government subsidy.
posted by rusty at 12:30 PM on May 19, 2008


God-Emperor of Back to the Land, perhaps.
posted by rusty at 12:31 PM on May 19, 2008


Actually it's Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Back To The Land Movement: The Final Chapter, part 2 .
posted by Mister_A at 12:31 PM on May 19, 2008


Lesson #1:
Clothespins are cheeper than deoderant, and they last longer!
posted by The Power Nap at 12:31 PM on May 19, 2008


no tolerance for idleness or drugs

Oy, Gott. Sounds like a fun bunch.
posted by everichon at 12:32 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


DO you think they are planning on raising an unholy army of anything out there?
posted by Mister_A at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know if this is a good idea. Without internet access, I'd have to fall back on my other hobby, sedition.
posted by mullingitover at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2008 [6 favorites]


I have no intention of giving up AC when the temperature has been near 100°! Thanks to all who want to live on nuts and berries = more electricity for me.
/Typical American
posted by Cranberry at 12:35 PM on May 19, 2008


From a purely financial standpoint, I would also HIGHLY recommend Viki Robin and Joe Dominguez' "Your Money Or Your Life".
posted by willmize at 12:36 PM on May 19, 2008


I could do (and have done) without a lot of the trappings of the North American Pleasure dome, but man, mess with my idleness and drugs* (and books, while we're here), and I will eventually get around to glaring at you in no uncertain terms.

*Here meaning "wine".
posted by everichon at 12:39 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


no tolerance for idleness or drugs

I have been steadily working on building up my tolerance for both for years now.
posted by ND¢ at 12:40 PM on May 19, 2008 [10 favorites]


I read their blog. (I hate how I can't signal that that's supposed to be in past tense!) It's hard to tell, but it sounds like you could just as well say they're on a mission to buy a lot of new stuff:
We have no need of a 12 piece, breakable set of dishes and will replace them with enamel coated metal dishes, cups, bowls for traveling and camping with. I have no need of high heeled shoes and purses and will replace them with some sturdy Goodwill boots and a back pack. Things of that nature.
Sounds like a fun little shopping spree in the making.

They remind me of a guy described in the popular book Your Money or Your Life, who had a very countercultural, anti-money life philosophy. He deliberately avoided getting a "real job." The result was that the lack of income caught up with him, forcing him to flail away looking for any odd jobs he could come up with since he was so desperate to have enough money to barely get. His radically anti-money ethos caused him to be all the more obsessed with money in the end. (I typed that before seeing the above reference to this book on preview.)

I of course wish these people the best, and I admire their principles and dedication, but who's to say that the ultra-austere focus on minimizing possessions won't just lead them to focus on possessions all the more? After all, you need some things to survive, and this project seems to emphasize and even glorify those relatively few (but surely still numerous) possessions.

If that ends up happening with this family, I'm guessing that won't get written up in the New York Times.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:40 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


What turducken said.
It's just not an impressive story when you have the financial wherewithal to make such a move. I know a lot of people who are trying to make due on very little...but not because they want to.

This story reminds of why, way back in the day, I stopped reading crap like Utne Reader and their ilk. I think it was after the bazillionth story about some DINK couple from New York quitting their jobs as a partner in a law firm and a hedge-fund manager to go make artisanal goat cheese in New Hampshire somewhere. Pretty easy to chuck everything and go live the "simple life" when you're sitting on a couple of big bags of cash.

I want to see these folks make the move after they've liquidated their investments down to what an average American family has available to live on.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:41 PM on May 19, 2008 [9 favorites]


*to barely get by
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:41 PM on May 19, 2008


Could you do it?

Sure. Why the hell would I want to? Our ancestors worked their asses off so we wouldn't have to live like hunter-gatherers. Thanks, ancestors!
posted by Justinian at 12:42 PM on May 19, 2008 [11 favorites]


Thank you for posting this terrific blogroll, this is inspiring and I really like looking at how different contemporary individuals, organizations, and families are interpreting and applying ideas as old as civilization. There are many different ways to lifehack, and these folks encourage me to think beyond what I can turn modular Ikea shelving into and wonder what it is I may want out of the total sum of my short existence--what I want my answers to the big questions to look like. The whole idea and these quests really push imaginative thinking about living for me.
posted by rumposinc at 12:44 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also: Does anyone have any follow-up on the last highly-publicized wave of this, the quasi-Amish people relocating to Barnesburg, Ohio and environs in the mid-to-late 1990s? Egged on by Kirk Sale and magazines like Plain? How are they doing?
posted by everichon at 12:45 PM on May 19, 2008


Jaltcoh
I read their blog. (I hate how I can't signal that that's supposed to be in past tense!)

Perused, perhaps?
posted by speug at 12:46 PM on May 19, 2008


I am practicing Involuntary Simplicity, myself, and hope one day to arrive at the point where it is voluntary.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:47 PM on May 19, 2008


Could you do it?

Sure. Would I, at this point in my life choose to if given an alternative? No.

I already tried the experiment, where I lived on virtually nothing but the barest of essentials for several years. It was called 'working my way through college' and it was certainly fun and educational, but as they say, 'I've been there, and I've done that'.
posted by quin at 12:51 PM on May 19, 2008


If they go far enough back in time, perhaps they will run into the Steampunks.
posted by stargell at 12:53 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


kickin' it old school, as in 800 years ago.
posted by tachikaze at 12:54 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Perused, perhaps?

Too hifalutin.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:08 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Poor children. Hopefully there's lots of porn in them there woods to keep them occupied without TV.
posted by SassHat at 1:13 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thoreau lived with stunning simplicity but stayed but two years, two months, and two days...then he went back to his pencil-making work (incidentally) he developed the Number Two pencil)...but more importantly, he noted that many indians believed that one ought to burn their possession each years so as not to become encumbered with them. I guess you could also note that he wa never married nor had kids...that sometimes makes a difference.
Things can accumulate, for sure, but why worry? When you die, your spouse and kids will sell what you had that is worthwhile, keep what is useful for them, toss what they don't want...meantime, you will have had the use of all those goodies you worked so hard for.

Now the tough question: how many of the very literate readers and posters at this lovely site have a fairly big collection of books? Why do you keep them? Will you re-read most of the? Why not give them away and if you want to reread a book, buy it used in paper or get it from the library.Do the books represent a security blanket that must be close by?
Why not give your possession Away to the homeless and then, like them, you will have little or nothing, but a place to live and you will have helped someone who has not even a place to live but now has your IPod, laptop, and OED?
posted by Postroad at 1:16 PM on May 19, 2008


Brings to mind David and Micki Colfax who lived "off-the-grid" and homeschooled their kids. Three of their sons then went onto Harvard College. Hard Times in Paradise: An American Family's Struggle To Carve Out a Homestead in California's Redwood Mountains.
posted by ericb at 1:22 PM on May 19, 2008


people have always done this, to varying degrees... Of course a)people who are really invested in living naturally and not being attached to money may never get stuck in a blackberry-world to start with, so don't so much "give up" a lifestyle as never really get caught up in it to begin with; and b)the more completely someone has left the world behind, the less likely the worldly papers are to catch up with them and write about them. But this story seems to be just about people voting for less rather than more in general, not about people really trying to be the next Thoreau.

Silly to trace it to the '80s in Seattle though. My parents were hippies living in Maine with kerosene lamps and outhouses in the 70s (mom from england, dad from chicago, college+ educated - it was "voluntary simplicity") and they weren't alone.
posted by mdn at 1:22 PM on May 19, 2008


You can have my OED when you pry it from my cold, arthritic fingers, a thing that is getting easier and easier to do by the way.
posted by Mister_A at 1:24 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? God! And you say, "Get that shit offa there and let me put my stuff down!"

George Carlin on "stuff."

Seriously, Postroad's question is appropriately pointed. I am a creative type, with musical instruments, art supplies, and manuscripts. About ten years ago, whilst getting ready to move, I looked around at the thousands of books I had accumulated over the years and thought -- "No. I can't face packing all those again." I gave away/sold most of them, keeping only the ones most meaningful to me.

Three years ago I got divorced. I needed to divest myself of a lot of things, mostly because I was going to be pretty much homeless for a while. I threw away a great deal of my old artwork and dozens of old manuscripts. I got rid of dozens more books.

I am traveling a lot lighter now. I have given up much of the stuff I lugged around with me for so many years. I still have a lot of stuff... but now I know I could give even these things up if I had to. I don't want to, and I hope I don't have to, but ultimately I have the single most essential thing I need for my creativity: my brain.

I really don't need anything else.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:26 PM on May 19, 2008


"What you mean, "walk the Earth"?
"Like Caine in Kung Fu. Walk from place to place, meet people, get in adventures."
"And how long do you intend to walk the Earth?"
"'Til God puts me where He wants me to be."
"What if He don't do that?"
"If it takes forever, then I'll walk forever.
"So you decided to be a bum."
"I'll just be Jules, Vincent. No more, no less."
"No, Jules, you decided to be a bum, just like all those pieces of shit out there who beg for change, who sleep in garbage bins, eat what I throw away. They got a name for that, Jules. It's called a bum. And without a job, a residence or legal tender, that's what you're gonna be, man. You're gonna be a fuckin' bum."
posted by mattbucher at 1:27 PM on May 19, 2008 [5 favorites]


Meh, a bunch of rich people who no longer feel like working. If you want to live in a sustainable way, move to NYC and purchase some carbon offsets for what you do use (I realize a lot of people are worried these are scams). Big city living in high density areas is the most efficient way to live.

If they really wanted to help the environment, they should have setup a solar field on their land and sold electricity back to the grid. Going to "live on the land" is just an excuse live the way they'd like to live, which is fine, but don't wrap it up in some kind of insipid morality tale.
posted by delmoi at 1:27 PM on May 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


My parents tried this (without the bags of cash) and ended up having to work zillions of crap jobs to make ends meet. Also, the kids in my town had a lot more sex a lot earlier than my urban counterparts, if anecdotes are to be believed. There wasn't much else to do and country living gives you lots of privacy.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I've never understood why teen sex was bad.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:28 PM on May 19, 2008


Two weeks ago the documentary Surfwise hit theaters. Trailer | Website.
"Like many American outsider-adventurers, Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz set out to realize a utopian dream. Abandoning a successful medical practice, he sought self-fulfillment by taking up the nomadic life of a surfer. But unlike other American searchers like Thoreau or Kerouac, Paskowitz took his wife and nine children along for the ride, all eleven of them living in a 24 foot camper. Together, they lived a life that would be unfathomable to most, but enviable to anyone who ever relinquished their dreams to a straight job. The Paskowitz Family proved that America may be running out of frontiers, but it hasn’t run out of frontiersman."
posted by ericb at 1:29 PM on May 19, 2008


This stuff is quite old, and seems to recur throughout human history. I don't know this for sure, but I would bet this impulse towards simplification started shortly after agriculture did.
posted by everichon at 1:32 PM on May 19, 2008


It's like a Western T'ao Ch'ien (陶潛)...
posted by Sangermaine at 1:33 PM on May 19, 2008


Also, the kids in my town had a lot more sex a lot earlier than my urban counterparts

Yeah...and how many of em had 3 kids by the time they were 24 and are now divorced?
posted by spicynuts at 1:34 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Instead of getting to the point where something drastic like this seems like the only way out, I'm going to continue to work to not accumulate so much junk in the first place. It's amazing what a good spring cleaning can do to divest one's house of excess crap.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thoreau lived with stunning simplicity but stayed but two years, two months, and two days...

It's easy to live with "stunning simplicity" when you have financial resources to support you, regardless of whether they're yours (like the family in question) or someone else's (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Living off the land is a messy, difficult endeavour, and those like Thoreau and all his successive imitators who pretend otherwise are imposing a false idea of simplicity that can only exist by virtue of external wealth.

And not to crap on you parade further, but this is something of a double. I'm not sure the admins will mind though, that fpp is over five years old.
posted by Ndwright at 1:35 PM on May 19, 2008


This mentality doesn't really resonate with me. It has this component of, "I don't really see a lot of value in this [completely optional] aspect of my society's norms, so instead of trying to change it, I'm going to abandon my society entirely and go live in the woods." Most of the ideals that these people are trying to accomplish could be achieved within the community/home/life that they already live, through personal lifestyle changes.

Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world."

That's not what these people are doing. They're abandoning "the world" in favor of making their own, ensuring that any change reflected from their choices will not make a difference to anyone else. Moreover, "the world" they're leaving is what made them, what allowed them to do what they're doing, which I suppose is neither here nor there to me, until the guy then has the nerve to say, "But I still want to work in that world and have all of those benefits. I just don't want to participate. Where's my DSL line?"

I suppose that would be the root of my "inexplicable" hostility to what they're doing. I don't have a lot of patience with people who refuse to work towards a better community where they live, instead yammering impotently about all the problems they see, and/or opting out of the system entirely. Except, you know, not entirely, "because I still need access to the Intarwebs!"

Good luck running out into the woods to find the answer to your problems. I generally find that running away from problems is a good way to solve them.
posted by Brak at 1:44 PM on May 19, 2008 [8 favorites]


Thoreau also said, Or might have said, I was so poor that if I were not a male I would not have anything to play with.
posted by Postroad at 1:44 PM on May 19, 2008


Postroad: I actually just got done building a big-ass bookcase for the books I've been toting around (many of them cross-country twice) for these last ten years or so. And I don't regret it one bit. I wish I could get rid of more of my crap to make more room for books. As it is, my 72 linear feet of new bookshelf space is already about 80% full.

In finally exhuming them from the boxes where they had been living (how's that for a mixed metaphor?), I did filter quite a bit. Got rid of maybe ten percent, and I haven't fully gone through the nonfiction yet. Probably lose another ten percent of those.

But to answer your questions, yes I am a compulsive re-reader. Most of the books I own I've read three or four times, some of them much more. A few have got to be up around ten or fifteen times by now. I keep them and re-read them because every (good) book leaves little traces in my head, phrases, ideas, particular ways of seeing things. Those traces dissolve over time and I enjoy refreshing them now and then. It's a joy to re-read a book and come across some idea or sentence that I've been toting around in my head for ages but had forgotten the source of.

Also, a lot of books means that you're never stuck on that night you finish your last library book. That's a plus. I'd hate to have to make do reading the backs of cereal boxes and such.

I'm also a frequent library patron -- the library is an excellent way to preview books. I've bought a lot of books that I first tookout from the library and read. In fact, that's become how I buy most of my books, now that I think of it. So I read a lot, but buy what I know I'll want to read again.

With the bookcase built, and now that I can finally actually see what I own and what I just thought that I remembered owning, I've also started a list of books I have read but don't seem to have and ought to buy. And I will buy them. As soon as I finish paying off the bill for bookcase materials. :-)
posted by rusty at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2008 [2 favorites]


Coyote: Clarity is the path to inner peace.
Homer: Well, what should I do? Should I meditate? Should I get rid of
all my possessions?
Coyote: [snorts] Are you kidding? If anything, you sh
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:56 PM on May 19, 2008


oops.

Coyote: Clarity is the path to inner peace.
Homer: Well, what should I do? Should I meditate? Should I get rid of
all my possessions?
Coyote: [snorts] Are you kidding? If anything, you should get more
possessions. You don't even have a computer.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:56 PM on May 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, the kids in my town had a lot more sex a lot earlier than my urban counterparts

Yeah...and how many of em had 3 kids by the time they were 24 and are now divorced?


None that I know of. Lucky for us we had relatively useful sex-ed back then. And AIDS. Way scarier is the number of my urban friends who were strung out by the age of 24.

Three kids by 24 doesn't seem terrible either, though, if you have some family around to help with childcare. Better to do it when you're young and have energy than when you're 45 and prone to overthinking your beans. (That's what grandkids are for.)
posted by small_ruminant at 2:00 PM on May 19, 2008


In your face, space coyote!
posted by box at 2:02 PM on May 19, 2008


My books are certainly security blankets; I've lugged a good portion of my collection through 8 moves and 3 states, the heavy bastards. They're also a resource in my professional life.

Your last question, Postroad, is a joke... right? Because the last thing homeless folk need is more stuff to lug around, or useless gadgets. Charities for new immigrants/refugees would be a better alternative.

Like Jaltcoh, it seems to me that the Cage Free Family is indeed making exchanges rather than eschewing material things altogether. Seems like it might be better to keep that china; it'll probably do fine for years to come, if packed right. They're still consuming - buying gas, using energy to power the computer, etc.

I think everyone thinks of going this road sometimes. We talk all the time about going off the grid (but we'd still power electronics with solar) - it's not an ethics/conservation thing, necessarily, but more of a thought that it would be nice to be free of dependency on anyone or any corporation. Pretty hard to do in today's world... at least it's hard to do without your family, friends, and strangers thinking you're a kook. It seems much more powerful to actually participate in your community to affect change.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 2:03 PM on May 19, 2008


They're abandoning "the world" in favor of making their own, ensuring that any change reflected from their choices will not make a difference to anyone else.

Except all the people in the propane and internet and home-building supply chains. And the people they do business with. And the people they do business with. &c.
posted by Kwantsar at 2:10 PM on May 19, 2008


I mean, the dude intends to keep working as a zero-and-one jockey, right? He should be growing his own food and bartering it or whatever, not working 9 to 5 pushin' zeroes.
posted by Mister_A at 2:16 PM on May 19, 2008


Yes, they do have a sort of evangelical/earnest approach, and the let's get rid of our current stuff for hippie stuff is kind of silly. But it's nice that they want to live differently, and it's amazing that they would just give everything away. I didn't get the money in the bank vibe.

The Simple-Lifers that take their big city bucks to live cheap in the country and go all morally superior irritate me, but not as much as the big city folks who want to buy up the coastline and lock it away. I'm easily irritated, and have a highly structured hierarchy of Irritators. This family in the article didn't place high at all.
posted by theora55 at 2:18 PM on May 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


“It’s amazing the amount of things a family can acquire,” said Mrs. Harris, 28, attributing their good life to “the ridiculous amount of money” her husband earned as a computer network engineer in this early Wi-Fi mecca.

I think that's where people are getting the "money in the bank" vibe.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:21 PM on May 19, 2008


More on books. There waas a famous 19th century writer who rented an apt and when the place got filled with his books, he walked away and left them there to begin elsewhere all over. I like books and from time to time do reread those around. But I have also given most awya, moved, and begun to collect over again. And then done the same thing. Boks of course are nice thins and much better than TV fort me, though I have TV. Not by chance that the happy people in Iceland we learn are the biggest book readers in the world...sure: how much daylight for them to go outdoors and pluck crabgrass for lawns.

But in sum my attitude is a simple one. You like to collect things? go to it. Far be it for me to be critical of what you do or how you live so long as you don't scratch the door on my 13-year-old Subaru.
posted by Postroad at 2:23 PM on May 19, 2008


Let's go out and play Dwarf Fortress!
posted by Free word order! at 2:29 PM on May 19, 2008


psmealey writes "Pheh. Squares."

Nah. Puritans. Fine people, but keep them away from legislating.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:36 PM on May 19, 2008


I'm glad people do this. I think more people should. They'll get the kinks worked out for when the rest of end up there.
posted by tkchrist at 3:00 PM on May 19, 2008


Acquisitiveness is a common perceived remedy for boredom and ennui. Living in a rural setting, for many (me included) is the best cure for boredom. There is a neverending series of tasks at hand to control the natural world at your door and to keep it from swallowing you. Then there is the fun stuff - gardening, building walls, trapping gophers, burn piles. Then there's the whole benefit of, when you're stir crazy and bored, you walk outside and listen to the birds and sit quietly without the intrusiveness of a neighbor, and suddenly a trip to Best Buy or the mall seems less appealing.
posted by docpops at 3:18 PM on May 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


Come to think of it, the books are a kind of security blanket, although having many books in the house hardly obviates the need for going to the library on a regular basis. (Especially since many academic books are now over the $100 mark. Mine included, unfortunately.)

*hugs some books*
posted by thomas j wise at 3:22 PM on May 19, 2008


Looks like we boinged the Forest Farm site. Please visit if you ever get a chance. They were phenomenal people and are well worth knowing about.

I encourage the book-huggers to read Scott Nearing's Making of a Radical. Good stuff.

A Boston Globe story on the Nearings.

Helen's Cookbook. And her difficult yet indispensable book on death.
posted by Toekneesan at 4:25 PM on May 19, 2008


I'm done moving forever, but occasionally, I look around at all this crap and think maybe it's time for a potlatch.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:31 PM on May 19, 2008


Reminds me of this:
Ironically, the scientists found that the most environmentally conscious people - they also tended to be older and more educated - chose to live in the most natural areas, and thus had a greater environmental impact on the surrounding landscape. These are the same people who drive a Prius to the local Whole Foods, where they buy organic vegetables and grass-fed beef and carry everything home in a fashionable reusable bag (in other words, they are bougies like me). And yet, because we all want to commune with nature, to have enough land so that we can inefficiently grow our heirloom tomatoes, we end up taking up more land and consuming more resources. I would appreciate the irony if it didn't so effectively describe the life to which I aspire.

posted by birdie birdington at 4:36 PM on May 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


i love how the "voluntary simplicity" movement has to put such emphasis on it being "voluntary". it has such wonderfully classist undertones.

because god forbid people think you're ACTUALLY POOR.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:41 PM on May 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


Their poor kids. Getting homeschooled is bad enough (read: restrictive, isolated, with the potential to go seriously off the rails) without your folks running off to the woods to hide out from modern life and anyone different from them.
posted by Scram at 4:41 PM on May 19, 2008


Ironically, the scientists found that the most environmentally conscious people - they also tended to be older and more educated - chose to live in the most natural areas, and thus had a greater environmental impact on the surrounding landscape. These are the same people who drive a Prius to the local Whole Foods, where they buy organic vegetables and grass-fed beef and carry everything home in a fashionable reusable bag (in other words, they are bougies like me). And yet, because we all want to commune with nature, to have enough land so that we can inefficiently grow our heirloom tomatoes, we end up taking up more land and consuming more resources. I would appreciate the irony if it didn't so effectively describe the life to which I aspire.

That's a good quote. What I consider, living here in semi-rural Oregon, is that every person sitting on five or ten acres who is a good steward of that land, who builds birdhouses and controls invasive weeds and plants trees along streambeds for fishes, is keeping those five acres from being developed into 50 new homes. Not as benign as it never having been trammeled in the first place, but perhaps better than more suburban sprawl.
posted by docpops at 4:42 PM on May 19, 2008 [4 favorites]


Mosquito Coast
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:05 PM on May 19, 2008


Doh! I goofed the title of Helen's book. While Light on Aging and Dying is a fine book, Loving and Leaving the Good Life is the difficult story of Scott Nearing's choice to stop eating and die at the age of 100.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:31 PM on May 19, 2008


Jaltcoh: "I read their blog. (I hate how I can't signal that that's supposed to be in past tense!) "

I have read their blog.
I sometimes read their blog.
Having read their blog...
Their blog, which I read this morning...
Upon reading their blog...

But as far as the couple in the article goes: good for them. I have no interest in doing what they're doing, and earnestness makes me itch, but I like that they're coming up with a different plan for themselves. (I do hope they have a backup for when they find out that no, bears do not use the Internet in the woods.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:39 PM on May 19, 2008


i love how the "voluntary simplicity" movement has to put such emphasis on it being "voluntary". it has such wonderfully classist undertones.

because god forbid people think you're ACTUALLY POOR.
Maybe I'm being too generous, but I see the emphasis being necessary as an expression of values that are counter to the contemporary American mainstream (i.e. "more and bigger/the most toys wins"). It's evangelizing the choice not to buy into that value system, despite one's ability to do so.
posted by kanuck at 5:51 PM on May 19, 2008


Getting homeschooled is bad enough (read: restrictive, isolated, with the potential to go seriously off the rails)

*snrk*

ri-i-i-i-i-ght. because kids in schools are never restricted, isolated, or go off the rails. last week, i watched a teacher tell a kid who obviously hadn't had a shower in awhile to remove his hat--because it wasn't "hat day." i think my homeschooled kid would tell you to kiss his free little ass. (but he's not here--he's horseback riding with his dad. later, he'll be going to do tae kwon do, and then going over to (one of his many) homeschooled pal's house to play Halo and run around in the woods.)

i guess i ran away to a voluntarily simple life. i hated the life my family and surroundings were pushing me toward, so i ran away to Duluth. (the town of many punchlines, aka "the end of the earth.") i would love to live in the woods, but it's too expensive--living on the edge of a small and stable city (read: very little sprawling going on) makes sense for giving up a car, and getting decent internet so you can work from home. that way, too, you can buy an old fixer upper instead of building someplace new out there where the animals wish you weren't.

i dropped 4/5 of my income fifteen years ago, and only get antsy when the voluntary no longer feels so voluntary--having no money in the bank can be stressful. but i think it's less stressful than a commute, or having to live in smogland, or having my mother standing around trying to get me to learn to do interior decorating like a real woman should. the biggest gift for me is having the ability to get a decent job at any point if necessary (substitute teaching is always needed), and having family gifted health insurance. without those two, plus no debt of my own (my partner has some), i wouldn't be so happy. so yes, running away well is a privileged position to be in. but i don't think most of you could live on my income without crying bitter bitter tears. it takes practice (and sitting meditation).

there is obviously some romanticism to those who then make a big production out of it, like writing a blog or getting interviewed or whatnot. i remember the feeling when i loaded up my little UHaul and hauled ass out of the big city. i was scared to death--no job prospects and showing up in a place where i knew exactly one person. it helped to feel it was a grand adventure. but it all worked out, and i'd never go back. the funny thing is that if you do something like this--if you say enough's enough and try to work as little as possible to get exactly what is needed and little more--you meet a whole lot of people doing their own versions of the same. we all have our priorities. for me it's time. time is way more important than any gadget or vacation. no regular 9-5 is worth the loss of my time.

i have great respect, honestly, for anyone who gets off the buy-everything train. i don't care how hippy-dippy they become, how feral their kids look on their ramshackle bus, how stupid they look when they go to buy their first gardening supplies at Dan's Feed Bin, or whether they end up finding some less-austere middle way years down the road when it gets exhausting to be rootless. it's better than what's happening in those suburbs or even the trendy little artist neighborhood where i used to live. it will always be better. get out. get out. get out.

i don't really think of that as a moralistic screed against those who are sucking up more resources than they're worth; it's a signpost toward freedom. it's been done, over and over since ever. sure. but we shouldn't get all judgmental on those who try it in earnest. i believe in earnestness.

people who say they can't homeschool for instance (rather than won't) are often pointing to the fact that they have to work too much. but most of those people are letting a company somewhere steal/buy their life in order to buy more crap. it's a bad trade, i say. your kids would rather have you around--just ask them.

so yeah. get out. i originally added "just don't move here." but if you're really about living a simple life, this town could always take a few more.
posted by RedEmma at 12:13 PM on May 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Guess sustainable living means giving up on deodorant. The girl got some serious sweaty pit stains going on.

Honestly, I would love to see 1/2 our shit go out the door, especially the shitbox 1979 Vet that is in my garage with a blown engine. My husband is a pack rat. He even kept his arm casts because it was signed by Ace Freeley. But the worse was when I found his pony tail in a box from 1989.
posted by dasheekeejones at 3:50 AM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


kanuck - perhaps i am being uncharitable and cynical. and i really don't mean to paint all folks trying to live simply with this brush, there are a number of folks i know who are living frugally and living simply. heck, i'm generally trying to live below my means most of the time.

but there's a strain of "voluntary simplicity" folks i've encountered who do seem to view it as a new style and an excuse to get rid of old stuff and get new stuff. in particular, i'm turned off by "real simple" magazine, which seems to have not nearly as much tightwad advice and far too much "spiffy things to buy" advice.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:22 AM on May 21, 2008


Check out Farewell, My Subaru.
posted by mecran01 at 3:58 PM on May 22, 2008


When my wife joined a church her non-religious sisters immediately pushed her away, even though she never pushed it on them or brought it up. I'm guessing it's because they felt they were being implicitly criticized or something. I think that may explain some of the harsh responses in this thread as well.
posted by mecran01 at 9:50 PM on May 22, 2008


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