What continues to drive me is to live more in line with my principles: to grow my food, to take care of my basic needs, take charge of my health and healing, and to live fully and honestly with myself in line with the living earth. For a while, as I have discussed on this blog, I ran a homestead as well as worked full time to pay for it, something that I stopped doing about a year and a half ago. Part of why I had to walk away from my homestead in its current model (and regroup) was that it was physically exhausting me, especially as a single woman. I was trying to do everything: hold a full-time job, grow my own food, tend my bees, tend my chickens, tend my land, make lots of things, write my blog, engage in my druid studies…and I couldn’t do it all. It was a painful and hard thing, to leave a year and a half ago and open myself up to future possibilities. It also has been good in that I’ve been working to confront some of the fantasies that made me pursue things in the direction that I did when that direction was, for me, unsustainable. I had a hard time understanding how my ancestors made it–how they were able to do so many things when I seemed to be able to do so few effectively.
Interestingly, at the time this was going on in my own life, I knew of several other homesteading folks who were in the same bind. One couple, who were also educators, were selling their land because they couldn’t do it all, and they both had to work to pay for it, and the debt and time debt were really harming them. Like me, they really wanted to live sustainably but found they couldn’t swing it with the jobs and mortgage. Another good friend (another single woman) wanted to buy land and had the money, but after seeing what I was doing and spending some time with, started re-thinking her choices. Yet another friend was also a single homesteader and had no idea how to work and keep his homestead. All of us had also experimented with WOOFing and other kinds of community building but it wasn’t enough to sustain us long-term. And in the time since, I’ve met many people on the path who have expressed similar issues.
What I hadn’t fully accounted for when I started homesteading was the toll that trying to live in two competing systems at once did to me; I was trying to literally live two full-time lives at once. The existing system of work and life and taxes didn’t decrease in its demands just because I had a spiritual awakening and wanted to live in line with my beliefs: a mortgage, student loans, the demands of my work, the path and choices I set up for myself in my 20’s still were present and demanding of their attention in my early 30’s. The current system is designed so that it is easiest to live within it, and every step you take out of it is more and more difficult.
And so, I’ve been reflecting. What happened? What could I have done differently? What could any of us do differently? What did I learn so that in the future I can take a different approach? For me, it all kept coming back to resources: my time and energy, debt, and community. I never seemed to have enough time to do even half of what I wanted at the end of the workdays, and I spent a lot of my evenings and weekends recovering from my work. And, yet, I knew I was working more efficiently and engaging in a lot more self-care than many of my colleagues at the university, who seemed perpetually exhausted. I also never seemed to be making much headway on my debt for the mortgage and on my student loans. Each time I had gotten a raise, associated costs of life went up (especially health insurance), and I ended up taking home less money than before the raise. I felt like, literally, I was a hamster spinning in a wheel. What was happening here?
And as I’ve been working through these questions about my own experience, a deeper set of questions has also emerged: what are the larger cultural systems in place that influenced my experiences and the experiences of others I knew? Culturally, what are the challenges?
Obviously, there are a lot of ways I could work through this, but today, I’m specifically going to look at time and leisure. And this is for a simple reason: time and physical energy seem, to me, to be the biggest limiting factor for many people; it was a limiting factor for me, and certainly, for others that I knew who were in a similar place. In fact, time seems to be one of the critical factors between well-intentioned folks who want to do something and people who do can do something. This happens a lot: I talk to people every day practically who really want to live more sustainably, who want to practice permaculture in daily living, who want to reconnect on a deeper level–and who physically can’t do so. They don’t have the energy, they don’t have the time, and the idea of “making time” sounds exhausting. I think there’s a lot of harsh criticism out there for people’s honesty on the matter of their time and energy–one form of this criticism is that it sounds like they are making excuses. In the US at least, we have a tendency to criticize an individual for personal failings and deficiencies rather than look at the systems in place that help or harm us. And yet, we live and work within these systems, and we are inherently bound to them and to the demands they place upon us. Having a clear understanding of those systems, and what we can do about them for the good of our spiritual practice and everyday living, seems critical.
And so, in the rest of this post (and over the next few weeks), I’m going to explore cultural challenges–and solutions–with our relationship with time: how our system literally sucks away our time and makes it much more difficult to engage various kinds of sustainable living and self-sufficiency, especially for those who are trying to walk the line between both worlds.
Understanding more about this system, and its history, is critical to all of us as we work to respond to the current industrial age, but as we begin to put in place new systems that will help replace this age and transition us back to nature-oriented living. And the key here is transitioning in a way that allows us to thrive: to be healthy (including well-rested), happy, be able to take care of some of our own needs, and to work with the land to create abundance and joy in our own lives. So now, let’s take a look at our relationship to time in the broadest view, that is, over hundreds of years of human living.
Progress and Time
One of the so-called promises of industrialization and consumerism is the idea that things are “better” or “easier” for us now that machines and fossil fuels do so many things. We are told, explicitly as children in school, that we are better off, that we work less than our ancestors, have better lives, and largely benefit from the technologies and goods. Our ancestors of the distant past had hard lives of filth and toil, and we have somehow risen above this. This is one of the cores of the myth of progress: that our lives are better than our ancestors because of our “progress” as a civilization. Wrapped into this myth is the idea that fossil fuels and the current 40-hour workweeks somehow liberated us from crushing labor. John Michael Greer has written extensively on this subject in his many books and blog, and if you aren’t familiar with his work and want his take on the subject, I’d highly recommend it (his new book After Progress is a particularly good place to start). This myth, the most powerful driving narrative of our present age, spans back at least until the time of industrialization but had its roots much earlier. One of these key pieces of the myth concerns the nature of time.
Work and Leisure in the Middle Ages
I’m sure any person of studying the druid traditions and old ceremonies read about 12-day celebrations and week-long feasts and think to yourself, how is this even possible? Who would have time for this? A 12-day celebration seems like a dream, a fantasy, not the reality of any people, at least within the industrialized era. But evidence exploring pre-industrial cultures, including the Middle Ages in Europe, offers a different tale. In fact, people in Europe and elsewhere did have time for multiple 12-day celebrations and feasts because they had an entirely different relationship with time, leisure, and work.
A good book on the subject of time and the history of work time is The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, by Juliet B. Schor. Schor demonstrates that while the 40-hour workweek of the 20th century was an improvement over the 80-hour workweek from the 19th century (which she claims may have been the height of human work hours in recorded Western history), there is an implicit assumption that all work weeks were 80 hours in the centuries before the 19th. That is simply not the case. Schor provides good evidence that prior to capitalism, our ancestors had an abundance of time and a leisurely pace of work. She, and others writing on this subject, often point to the Middle Ages as a comparison.
Work in the Middle Ages was intermittent, with frequent breaks, even during planting and harvest times–these breaks were considered part of the rights of workers. During periods of downtime between planting and harvest, little work was done at all. In fact, almost one-third of the medieval person’s life was spent on holiday: everything from prayer and somber churchgoing to merrymaking and feasting. These included many holidays through the Catholic Church (which was still quite pagan in those days, adopting many of the earlier week-long pagan feasts and traditions). In addition to the publicly sanctioned feasts, a typical middle ages calendar also included the “ale weeks” of various sorts where you might take a week off to celebrate someone’s wedding or birth of a child and the like. The Catholic Church’s doctrine suggested that too much work was a sin, and so, it actively limited how much work anyone could do (it also limited other things, like usury, or the charging of interest which is another topic entirely).
With this religious-political system in place, people had a lot of leisure time for all of those holidays and festivals as well as practicing functional crafts and bardic arts. For example, France’s ancien règime guaranteed workers fifty-two Sundays, ninety rest days, and thirty-eight holidays per year (could you imagine that today?) Approximately 5 months of the year were taken off in Spain during the Middle Ages. In England, records from manors in the 13th century suggested that manor servants worked 175 days a year (likely a 10 or 12 hour day); peasant farmers worked not more than 150 days a year on their land, laborers worked around 120 days, and even miners worked only 180 days.
If we average these different data points from England, we get 156 days of work per person. Today, with the typical “40-hour workweek” with standard holidays and two weeks off for vacation (read, crashing and recovering), the average American workweek is about 261 days. This is nearly one hundred days more than our medieval ancestors. And even on days we don’t work or are on vacation, how many of us now are tethered to our smartphones and emails–our work follows us wherever we go, in ways even our counterparts from earlier in the 20th century can’t imagine. Now I’m not saying the Medieval system was perfect–but on the matter of time, it appears to be a vast improvement from our current state of affairs.
Change is a constant, and certainly, big changes were coming near the end of the Middle Ages. The Protestants, specifically, the Puritans, grew in strength and popularity all over Europe; their take on work was the opposite of the Catholic Church’s. Their motto was that hard work was good for the soul, and laziness was the work of the devil. Further, in England, the English Reformation led to major changes in work hours: King Henry VIII seized the monasteries and their land furthering the protestant cause and decreasing the stability of the peasants (who often worked on land owned by the monasteries). The changes continued–after industrialization began taking off, a need for bodies in factories led to major shifts in how the land was used: in many places, the common people and peasants have driven off lands and replaced with more profitable sheep (see, for example, the Highland Clearances in Scotland).
Eventually, these and other factors give rise to the 80-hour workweeks the 18th and 19th centuries (work weeks suffered by largely displaced peoples–economic refugees). The factory worker’s plight is a tale many of us likely know well (for a good description of this in the early 20th century, see Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle). Eventually, laws in various countries were introduced, including the current 40-hour work week here in the USA (which certainly seemed like an improvement after the insanity that preceded it).
Also, there is some truth in the idea that we have it better now in terms of work from our ancestors a century or two ago. But the idea that pre-industrialized peoples worked away their days just to scrape by is hogwash. It’s hogwash not only in terms of the Middle Ages but even in terms of the more distant past. And, as I’ll explore next week in more depth, workweeks currently are on the incline and have been for at least the last 20 years. Part of this, as we’ll explore next week, has to do with our own choices and relationship to work (things we can control) and part of it may have factors outside of our control.
All of this information helped me put things in perspective–people living close to the land in ages past had very different demands on their time than people attempting it today. I’m, then, not surprised by my own experiences and those with similar stories that I knew well. For so many of us, it is not a lack of desire, but of time, of resources, and of support–and finding ways to balance these things, while all the while paying for it within this crazy system–is a serious challenge and one deserving of our attention.
People living in times past had amounts of leisure time that seem unfathomable to those of us in modern industrialized or post-industrialized societies–leisure time in which to make merry, engage in careful handicrafts, or pursue other interests fully. Further, people living in those earlier times also had support from strong and thriving communities. People living in the distant past also had existing systems in place to aid them and often had carefully cultivated and abundant landscapes in which to work, which is diametrically opposed to seriously degraded landscapes that we are now working to restore. In other words, the challenges we face are serious ones, and our responses must, therefore, be thoughtful, deep, and careful. Understanding the systems in which we work, and their demands can help us better adapt our own plans, especially to those that seek a regenerative and nature-based living. Time, especially as it relates to our work demands, is certainly not on our side. There are some alternative approaches and solutions to this–and we’ll keep exploring these in the coming weeks.
Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal and commented:
Thought-filled article… we each need to decide what is important in our lives…
Thank you for the reblog 🙂
wow. I really enjoyed reading your exploration of the questions that have been arising around your desire “to live fully and honestly with myself in line with the living earth” since leaving your homestead and also looking at past history. Am looking forward to reading about the alternative approaches and solutions that you’ve discovered. Thank you 🙂
Thank you, Jillian! Its taken me a while to work my way into some of this, but I hope it bears some good fruit 🙂
Great post. The information about workdays in the medieval times is very interesting. It occurs to me that while medieval tenants were beholden to the lords, and we modern folks with our landlords or mortgages are beholden to the banking lords. Not so very different, and likely less humane. I’m guessing we have more homelessness.
I have been doing my share of deep thinking about the topic of time myself this week. Specifically the Spector of Laziness that whispers criticism whenever it is impossible to “get everything done.” Currently I work a 3 day work week and my paying job, and the tasks of keeping a house and homeschooling a couple of lads, actually combine to be more than full time. Usually leaving little time for writing/art making. So “progress” on my list is pretty slow, while strangely time itself seems to be wickedly speeding up.
Perhaps honoring holidays is a revolutionary act we can all sink our teeth into? That and more time to putter.
I look forward to your next dispatches.
I have long thought (and said to a few friends) that corporate employers are the new overlords and we are all their serfs….I mean, think about….you (if you’re lucky or especially skilled) can perhaps choose a different overlord from your current one, but whatever overlord you have will set your hours, your vacations, have almost complete control over much of your waking life, can threaten you with loss of livelihood and ability to support yourself and your family, etc. And there is usually the threat of being replaced by another serf, whether that is one overseas or a machine. At best it is no different, and likely it is worse.
Yeah, I pretty much feel this too. And its not just corporate employers–but all employers. A while back I wrote a piece on meaningful work where I talked about stuff like schedule manipulation. Here it is: https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/shifting-beyond-corporate-exploitation-meaningful-work-and-reconnecting-with-ourselves-and-the-land/
I think that folks are so afraid of being unemployed that our corporate lords have so much power. As the last power of unions is eradicated by laws designed to break them, it does seem to be dire indeed. But I don’t think all hope is lost (although there are days that feel that way!)
Thanks for the comment! In fact, one of the pieces of data I didn’t share from the Schor book was the “rent” tenants paid to live on the land of lords, monasteries, and so on. Typically, most peasants worked 10-12 hours (or one full day/two half days) a week in exchange for living on the land.
And the “specter of laziness” is something we all need to confront! Oh my. We have it in academia really badly, my doctoral students call it “academic guilt.” Its the idea that if you aren’t working on research, well, you should be and the idea of taking off more than a day or two is preposterous.
I’m certainly working through these things, finding my own balance, and seeking alternatives that are sustaining and nurturing!
Reblogged this on unity2013.
Thanks for the reblog! 🙂
If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Daniel Quinn’s book Beyond Civilization. He says that every species has a natural way to live and thrive. For humanity, that way is tribalism. He’s not suggesting that we go back to the Stone Age, but rather that we join with others to make a shared living where each member of the “tribe” gains security and abundance. He takes several hundred pages to say that and more so I’m not really doing it justice. Check it out! It’s a wonderfully Druidic approach and inspired me to buy into my sister’s farm in WV and do permaculture and crafts with her in our retirement. Papers are being drawn up as we speak!
Hi Bee – so nice to hear from you. I will check out Quinn’s book for sure. That might help me with the 3rd post in this series, which I’m still working out! I’m so delighted to hear that you are moving to WV! Where will you be? Anywhere near the PA side of things? Permaculture and crafts sound pretty heavenly :).
Looking forward to part 2 of this series! Very interesting.
As for moving east, I’ll be about 50 miles north of Charleston in Roane County. About the same gardening climate as Denver with 3 or 4 times the precipitation. I’m having fantasies about jungles of pole beans and winter squash! Ha!
When you live in the trees, it can be difficult to see the forest.
So, let’s look at a simple metric. Each person’s work produces value (and there is no reason, except indoctrination or belief, to think one’s work is more valuable than another’s. Add up all the hours worked collectively by a society, give it a common rate and extend it to a total value (to be) received. Now do you understand why under the present system you cannot maintain both an acreage and a full time job, yet the Rothschilds and others have trillions, vast real estate holdings and all the leisure time they could possibly want?
It doesn’t have ANYTHING to do with ‘work’. It all has to do with distribution of the total societal benefits from that work. You are being robbed each and every day along with 99.9% of the willing others on this planet. You have only been taught to think that the problem is you, your inherent deficiency or lack of time. How foolish to believe what you have been told. You are indoctrinated into a belief system that prejudices you and favours a small group of others. Time to awaken. The truth will set you free.
Ewan, you are speaking my language! The truth indeed will set you free. I think for many, it takes a while to work into this–to get the right reading material, to have the right conversations that help shift thinking to other perspectives. To let go of the myths you’ve carried with you for a long time. Thanks so much for the comment :).
Excellent post! I too suffered from overwork the first few years on our homestead. My failure was to imagine I could replicate a middle-class Canadian lifestyle from the sweat of my own unlearned brow. Our ancestors did not have fancy meals every day. They ate bread and pottage a lot but the bread was more nourishing and the pottage was continually changing with the plants and herbs in the garden.
Farms also used to have a lot more staff from the housewife who cooked the meals to the 5 year old goose girl who took the geese to graze. No one tried to do it all on their own.
Holidays are not just fun they are essential. No one would work a horse as hard as a modern worker is driven because a horses has value.
The trick is to try to do something instead everything and to treat yourself with kindness.
Hugs from Max
Max – this is such an excellent point. Those in the middle class live a life based on fossil fuel inputs. There is no way that you, or any other person, could attempt to have that lifestyle without them (or on a majorly reduced amount). And yes to holidays, yes to kindness, and yes to everything else! Thanks so much for your comment.
Reblogged this on Laura Bruno's Blog and commented:
This is an excellent post from Dana about differences between “time” in the Middle Ages and “time” in the 21st century. I became aware of just how much leisure and feast time peasants had during the Middle Ages when David and I watched a documentary made by someone from Monty Python. For the life of me, I cannot recall which actor nor the title, but it explored in depth the peasants’ lives. They sounded surprisingly good compared to most people’s workaday week in the 21st century.
I’ve also been pondering this topic in my hopes to find people to enjoy/maintain the food forest at both houses once we move on from here. I’ve realized just how much freedom I have in terms of managing my own time and how rare that is in our society. It would likely require 4-5 people to do what I’ve done mostly on my own. A two home community would be ideal to step in and benefit from a working permaculture design. I’m also exploring how large a garden I want in our next location. These yards were right sized here, because I wanted the education/experience and didn’t want to do much else here. As we move forward, though, allocating more time to writing, traveling, socializing, and eating out, how much garden do I really want or need? I’m still exploring the balance, and we have “time” to do so, but periodic self-assessments of values and foci help make more satisfying and conscious changes.
My “Amish” five-pointed star blew off its trellis yesterday. To me this came as a sign that we will not be here much longer. When thinking about these properties without us here, I always see the star gone. Yesterday, the gusty wind whisked it away, just as I feel will happen when all aligns on both ends of our new adventure.
In any case, if you feel strapped for time, or you want to become more sustainable but don’t know how, this new set of articles by Dana will likely help flesh out your ideas and choices.
Hi Laura, thanks for the reblog and thoughtful comments. I’m excited to hear about your own new adventure, especially now that you’ve gotten “the sign.” (My sign was the rooster, as I explained in an earlier post. And what a powerful sign…). I would say in terms of finding the next set of caretakers: put it out to the spirits. My homestead found its new owner and embraced her–and I wouldn’t have had it any other way! I did the magic, and it happened.
Thanks, Dana! Yes, I have put it out to the spirits. I just need to release it the rest of the way and trust all is in perfect order. It’s funny, because the potential of buying your homestead is actually what first got us talking about moving to Michigan, and it indirectly led to me manifesting the house next door as an office. I often think of the caretaker for your place and it gives me something tangible to say, “Yes, this is possible. This is going to happen.” 🙂
I thought that was the case! I find that, despite how long I’ve been on this path and the magic that I’ve seen, it is still so hard to just put it in the hands of the spirits and not force it too soon. Its a lesson I’ve had to really learn these last few years!
[…] The Druid’s Garden […]
Reblogged this on Illuminations Now!!.
Thanks for the reblog! 🙂
We are born into an ongoing story as transients with no claim to anything. Our part in the story is overwhelmingly, but not totally, shaped by the culture (people, customs, ongoing events) into which we are thrust. This culture (modern day America) has effectively blinded us to our connection to each other & the natural pre-human planet. My task is to find that connection, understand what is happening from that point of view & live accordingly. I have been blessed to have found people like yourself who are sufficiently dis-enchanted (becoming free) of the dominant narrative of this place & time, that you’ve begun to glimpse the possibilities. I began glimpsing those possibilities more than 60 years ago & decided to trust my heart & follow where those glimpses were leading me. I have not been disappointed.
Our life here is a journey, not a destination..
We are never alone & never without resources, but we may need to be encouraged to take the next step. Allow me to offer this:
Who are you they ask me?
Who are you they say?
We know what your name is but what is your way?
We don’t know your feelings, your secrets, your work.
We don’t know to love you or call you a jerk.
We need information to make up our mind.
We need information to label your kind!
I AM who you are is the answer I give.
And you are who I AM, so let’s live & let live!
There’s more to our living than labels & names & there’s more to our journey than playing stale games.
So let’s take a chance, you & I, just this once.
Let’s both take a risk & let go of the front’s.
I’ll look into your eyes & you look into mine
And let’s see if we can’t do it different this time
I AM who you are & you are who I AM all the rest is illusion, the rest is a sham.
Be Well my Unseen Friend
Hi Kelly, thanks for reading and commenting–and for sharing he lovely poem. I’m interested in learning more about the possibilities that you saw 60 years ago, and where they led. It sounds like you have been on quite a journey!
And yes–the lack of connection is to me one of the key problems. Without connection, we can’t live in our heartspaces and feel empathy for others (humans and non-humans alike). We can only take, without regard for what cost that taking is coming from. This is why I like the work of Joanna Macy so much–the work that reconnects. There’s lots of ways into it, of course, and it is a worthy journey!
Well done Dana. Wonderfully thought through and written.
Thanks Patrick! And thanks for reading!
This is a very timely article. I’m a homeschooling mom (to 2) and for the last five years I’ve also been trying to permaculture (both learn all about it and implement it), garden (ditto), learn herbalism, study druidism, and have kept bees, chickens, goats, dogs, and a horse. All this on top of cooking healthy meals, exploring primitive living skills, and ferrying the kids to music and martial arts lessons, Scouts & 4H. It’s been completely f*(&ing crazy.
Like you, I have also dropped a lot and am trying to re-group and re-evaluate. I have gained much in skill over the years but my life has also been nothing but a blur and I’ve had to deafen myself to the needs of my own Soul – the desire for rest, for space for thoughtful reflection and reading, and for calm and wise evaluation of options. In short, life, while very good in many ways, has also totally sucked in others. It is very, very challenging to maintain the current system while simultaneously learning the skills for the next. And it is so easy to live in constantly-fueled fear….”I need to learn these things NOW because all the systems around me are becoming unstable.” I am working on accepting the risk of loss and death of things I love as things continue to decline – and am also working to realize that perhaps focusing on trying to save it all myself is not the right focus. Maybe growing my soul is as or more important than focusing on saving my body or becoming 90% self-sufficient.
I look forward to the rest of this series.
Hi Janet, thanks for sharing your story. I understand the drive so much–you see things continue to fall apart. You want to enter this situation with your eyes open, as prepared as possible for the predicament that we are facing, and ready to be prepared with all systems in place. That’s exactly what I felt too (and still do–its a nagging voice in my head even now).
And so, we feel we must do them all. But we simply can’t. And there has to be a different way (or set of ways).
I think that’s part of the problem (certainly one I had)–filling up every inch of space with some thing I was doing. Even if it was a very good thing, a helpful and positive thing, it was still space filled. And sometimes those empty spaces where we can just rest, reflect, and “be” are the most powerful ones.
Reblogged this on Rattiesforeverworldpresscom.
Thank you again for taking on such an important issue. I’ll add my story along with the others you told, moving to town after 20 years “trying to live two full-time lives” (along with 1 1/2 hours commuting every day) underneath a crushing mortgage. Good news – moving to town I found a unique opportunity to rescue a small orchard (2.5 acres) and combine my orchard tending, teaching classes (our dojo is on our property) and being in short (1 mile) walking distance to work.
Please also talk about the issue of aging … as we get older it gets unbelievably harder (OK, impossible) to accomplish physically what we did before, even a decade ago.
With gratitude and blessings –
This sounds great–I’m so glad you have found some kind of balance in your life! Blessings on the orchard (and do check out a book called the The Holistic Orchard – http://www.chelseagreen.com/the-holistic-orchard). You might really find it fascinating! And yes, I will talk about the issue of aging.
I nominated you for the Real Neat Blog Award =)
Aw, thanks! I really appreciate it! 🙂
This is a complex topic and well needs the exposure you are giving it.
One of the folks above pointed out that yes, medieval folks worked less than we do, *and they had a lot less stuff*. I want to both emphasize that point and add to it another aspect, because I think it is too easy to imagine something like what we have now except that instead of mowing a lawn, we potter in our food forest. In other words, it’s far too easy to imagine that we’re going to drive about as much, have about the same size houses/apartments, use about the same amount of energy, have about the same sized and fully stocked grocery stores, and have similar kinds of paid employment, with the only replacement being the food forest and fewer hours at employment. We need to remember that whole families lived in the size of the 120 square foot shed I have in my backyard and 90% or more folks lived as farmers and/or herders when the work year was 100 days less than ours. They didn’t have central heat (except for a hearth); they had no air conditioning, no electricity, no washing machines, almost no clothing compared to us. And as Greer has pointed out repeatedly, the average peasant had no money; they didn’t get paid in money and they didn’t use money to obtain goods. What they had they made, or someone else made and they traded for, or they were given it. I’m not arguing that we will go back to exactly that, but as we continue through decline and less energy is available to power all the systems of our lives, including the financial system, we are going to get a lot closer to a version of this than we are now.
It’s important to grasp how closely money, and especially the money we spend to acquire stuff, is connected with lack of time (this is the point I’m adding). In the book Your Money or Your Life, Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin argued that every act of spending money is spending literal hours of our precious lives, the hours that we spent to work for it and all the hidden hours that paid employment also requires, like commuting. It’s also spending down our Earth’s life: her soil, her minerals, her oil, her trees, her air, her water. This means that the lack of time we perceive is not just related to the excessive hours we work; since we work those hours to buy stuff (everything from food and shelter to the latest “smart” phone), our lack of time is also related, and very strongly, to all the excessive space we command and the stuff we cram into it and to the damage we cause to the Earth by living in this state of excess.
Realizing this in their own lives, Dominguez and Robin developed a nine step plan whose first steps included keeping track of every cent that comes into or goes out of your life, categorizing each expenditure into meaningful categories for yourself, and then asking of each category if the things or experiences it brought into your life were fulfilling compared to the hours you worked to acquire them; were in line with your values; and if they would go up or down if you were not engaged in paid employment, or at least your current version of it. I read the book some time after I quit doing paid employment at a job I hated. It was one of the most important books I’ve ever read. My husband and I started doing the steps and immediately realized where we were spending money that wasn’t fulfilling or in line with our values. It took time, in some cases a lot of it, to reduce or in some cases stop that spending, but at least we saw clearly exactly what it was we were buying that didn’t fulfill us and what wasn’t in line with our values. Until we did these steps, we simply didn’t know. And all of these steps were things we had control over.
We are all caught up in larger systems and they do push us in unsustainable directions. At the same time, we do have areas where we have some control that we are not exercising effectively, such as over our spending and over the time we spend in front of a TV screen. Exercising that control could give us more time, as it did for my husband and me. And that extra time helped me to get my life back.
Claire, ah yes, the issue of stuff and its tie to money. The modern data (which I’m presenting in today’s post) certainly supports all of this! I’m glad you mentioned the “Your Money or Your Life” book–this has been a guiding light in my own life. Getting one’s spending back in line with one’s values, and reducing it, is really critical.
I’m glad to hear that the book worked for you. It worked quite well for me as well–monitoring spending for about six months really had me take a deep look at my own “life energy” and where it was heading.
How long did it take you two to make the shifts? I’m curious to hear your experience–as you are the only other person I know who has actually done the practices in the book. For me, I did monitoring for an initial month, made shifts, monitored for six months, and felt like by the end, I had it. Once a year, I do another month of monitoring and check up to make sure I’m still in line with my principles. And I recalculate my real wage every year or so based on changing life circumstances.
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Thank you Dana and everyone who’s commented here. There’s so much info and inspiration. Very eye opening, and helpful and much appreciated.
Thanks Jillian! I agree, these comments are just full of great insights 🙂
Sounds like Holistic Management would be helpful to anyone with this kind of problem. Find your priorities, and do what contributes most to them.