This is Part Two of a five part series about how “Homesteading Will Make You Question” the systems and practices in place in the United States. Click here for Part One.
Changing your lifestyle brings with it many unforeseen challenges, adjustments, and sacrifices. In our efforts to produce as much of our own food as we can, get completely out of debt, and get systems in place to be more self-sustainable; I find myself questioning why we do certain things in our modern society. A question that keeps repeating over and over in my head is, “Why?” Examples would be, “Why do people think a job working at McDonald’s or pumping gas is a job they should be able to make a ‘living’ at?” or “Why don’t more people live within their means instead of always ‘catching up’ on their debt?” My viewpoint has shifted dramatically. There is no question that I see the world around me with at least some of the filters off now. Things that I used to take as a normal thing (such as high revolving debt) without a second thought now makes me pause and not just when it comes to work. It has permeated every facet of my life and I find myself questioning how and what we eat, how we work, how we play, and how we treat each other, and how we live overall. This article will focus on How We Work
How We Work. While I understand the history of how work shifted from farms and rural areas to larger cities and factories, what I do not understand is where we lost our “producer” mentality and ended up as the global definition of “consumer.” No where else consumes as much of everything than the United States. Food, prescription (and illegal) drugs, and fuel are all consumed more in the United States and in some cases, we consume more of certain resources than all other countries combined. If you only look at energy consumption, one American uses the same amount of energy as 13 Chinese according to a study done by the University of Washington in 2008. I really don’t see those numbers going down. They rarely do.
When I was a kid, it was all about the “Made in USA” product. Something made right here at home and there was a serious pride in having that claim on your product. That has gone off by the wayside in many industries with the lower costs of production, lack of taxes, and lack of certain regulations by moving their business overseas. I ‘get’ that a business is in it to stay in business. As the shift really began, items made overseas rarely had the same level of quality as they did when made here at home. Things lasted longer or were actually repairable versus now where it is all disposable and you just go buy a new one because it is cheap. Something ‘Made in China’ generally meant it was a lower quality if not outrightly cheap. A recent example of that is the Xtratuf rubber boots. Alaska makes up ‘the core’ of that company’s sales from fishermen and other outdoor industries. When they moved their production to China, the product quality went into the bilge. People were used to having their boots last years of hard, daily use. Afterward, there were reports of the boots only lasting a couple weeks before separating, literally separating, at the seams. The company cited corporate tax being the reason for the move and while I am sure there is truth to that, the bottom line is by moving to China, they avoid not only the taxes but also pay less for materials to produce their goods which increases the overall profit margin. It kind of blew me away how there were older ‘Made in USA’ Xtratufs being sold on eBay for huge sums of money I am not trying to define or determine our economic situation. I am merely asking “why?” It seems so backwards to me to expect our country to ever move forward when both the government and the vast majority of its citizens are so deeply in debt that they will never, ever see the numbers in the black again. We have gone from being ahead of the game and in many ways the leaders pioneering the way, to being mindless consumers who only care about their own personal comfort and don’t seem to care about the bigger picture. I used to be one of them.
So, when I began doing the homestead lifestyle research and making changes, I kept ‘discovering’ things that my great grandma wouldn’t have thought ‘odd or extreme’ in the least. Instead of looking at stuff as trash, she would think of ways to repurpose it. She didn’t care about what the Jones’ thought. It didn’t bother her that a planter in her front yard was an old fridge that she had repurposed to grow flowers in. When in bloom, you couldn’t even tell it was a fridge. Just a huge, nice flower box. She didn’t have to go out and buy the items, she already had items on hand that just needed to be looked at in a different way. She was not stuck on having everything brand new and shiny. Functional and not an eye-sore was good enough as it really should be, in my humble opinion. I think that people who focus so much on fashion or the nicest car or the biggest house are slaves to media hype and materialism. They define their happiness on material possessions. Then again, some could argue I am a slave to my garden or my blog or whatever. Here is the difference:
I am trying to switch my life so that I Work to Live, and not Live to Work.
In the former, you get up and work on your home and food source(s), providing and producing what you need largely on your own. You work on improving your life and skills. In the latter, you spend all your time working for ‘the man’ so you can buy the stuff that you would be producing yourself in the former. Now, I am not saying that you should jaunt off into the woods and try to live freely or alone. That is simply not realistic. Humans are community minded mammals and we need each other to be able to survive and thrive. One person cannot do everything alone. Honestly, 3 people still cannot produce everything they need on their own. Oh sure, you could likely get by and make incredible sacrifices to do so but realistically speaking, no man is an island and personally, I think life would be pretty boring alone. I cannot understand how people find working in a cubicle satisfying or fulfilling. Some days, I feel like I live two lives. In the first one, I work in an IT office and mess around with technology and gadgets, on my cell phone, tablet, etc. In the other life, I garden, read about raising chickens, learn and practice food preservation methods and generally work toward producing what I need on my own which goes against the grain of the first life. In some ways, it is like a purgatory or a state of limbo and I just keep moving forward hoping that the hard work will cause something to give that will allow us to move over to the dream and life we envision. The deeper we move into it, the more I find myself asking “Why would you spend your whole life working 40+ hours a week (with only 2 weeks off a year) for another person or company and making them a profit only to end up at the end of it all with a retirement fund if you are lucky, loads of debt, and little else to show for it?” That seems so backwards to me! I want to look back at my life and be able to say, “I worked hard everyday for myself to build all I see around me. Over there is the house I built, over there is my personal produce section, and over here is the meat (chickens) section of my grocery store.” Or something along those lines. You get the idea.
The flip side of all this is play time! Some people are lucky enough to ‘play’ at their ‘work’ because they are doing what they love. That will be Part Three, coming out next week: “How We Play.”
What about you? Do you also question How We Work? Give us a comment below, we love to hear from you!