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Making a Lifestyle Change
Self Sufficiency - Making the change
By staff of ACS Distance Education
Modern society is an extremely complex thing. It relies completely upon a massive network of interrelationships between individuals and groups. Each part of society supports each other part. To live in such a world you must settle into a niche and contribute to the system; in return the system supports you.
This does have its advantages: it allows for efficiencies of scale i.e. when something is made in large quantities, it can be produced more efficiently: it allows for specialized development of skills (i.e. if a person is able to concentrate on one job they can become more proficient at that job). It also buffers the effect of a mistake (i.e. if someone has an accident, the system supports the person until they recover ‑ through an insurance scheme or government welfare; the expense of the accident is shared by many).
Modern society also has its disadvantages: It does not tolerate anything which does not fit the system. People who deviate from what is considered the 'norm' are 'labelled' and may be rejected by society in the main. It is impersonal, only guaranteeing the material needs of the individual. Within the machinations of modern society, because everyone is so dependant on everyone else they are frequently affected by things they have no control over, for example, industrial disputes.
If the system collapses; everything collapses. This de-humanising approach can increase the likelihood of emotional problems.
Further to that most people do not have a broad enough range of skills to survive if thrown into an unusual situation such as war, economic collapse, or natural catastrophes.
To step out of the system and become more self-reliant is an ever increasing urge in modern society. Many people, fed-up with the pressures of every-day living and work, and a western consumerist driven life-style, yearn for a simpler existence. In order to achieve this and to improve their quality of life they consider ‘downsizing’. Making this change can have dramatic but also positive effects on their relationships and the psychological, financial, spiritual, and the physical aspects of their lives.
Some move forward to embrace the change with enthusiasm and vigour, and never look back. Others underestimate the enormous change in lifestyle, the amount of hard work involved and the day to day adjustments they need to make. The difference between the two may be as simple as their psychological approach to the concept of self-sufficiency in the first place.
So why do people do it? There are as many reasons as there are people who choose to become self-sufficient. When we live in a town or city, our work and home lives can seem very fixed. In the winter, we go to work in the dark, work under artificial light and go home in the dark, hoping the heating works. In the summer, we go to work in the light, work in artificial light and go home, hoping the air conditioning works. The supermarkets stock fruit and vegetables all through the year. No more, the looking forward to satsumas or strawberries at certain times of year. They are always available. Society more and more is trying to standardise us, to make the seasons the same. People may aim to become self-sufficient to find that communion with nature, with the seasons, to enjoy the changing times as nature intended, to avoid the standardisation and uniformity that seems to exist in modern life.
Many self-sufficiency buffs may start with a theory of life that does not fit in with the modern lifestyle. They may believe that fields and farms and animals are their idea of heaven, their utopia. Whilst others may think that they are practical and enjoy the thought that they are meant for working with the land.
Many of us love the idea of living on a farm and growing our own food and wine, living the “Good Life” as was shown in the popular British comedy. But many of us may not have the means or space to do this without going to live on a smallholding.
They may wish to produce their own food, not eat that which is shipped from the other side of the globe.
Whilst others may simply yearn for the frontier spirit, for personal freedom, to escape from the rat race, some may bemoan the lack of community spirit in the modern world and strive for the community that is meant to exist in rural situations.
Whatever the reasons a person may have for wishing to become self-sufficient, they need to recognize the state they are in mentally, physically and emotionally. People who strive for self-sufficiency require courage and determination, but they also have to move away from the moaning and self-analysis of modern life, towards a positive and can-do attitude.
What is self-sufficiency?
The concept of self sufficiency is all too often bandied around without people properly understanding what it all means. Consider the following statements:
· To be self sufficient is to produce the things which you need to survive without the assistance of outside people.
· You can produce some of your needs and be partly self sufficient, produce all of your needs and be completely self sufficient.
· An individual person can be self sufficient, a small group (e.g. a family) can be self sufficient, or a large group can be self sufficient (you might think in terms of a whole society, city or nation).
To become self sufficient usually involves making certain compromises or concessions in your
lifestyle. You might have to wear different types of clothing, adapt to a different level of mobility
or change your diet. The degree to which you can achieve self sufficiency is usually related to
the degree to which you are willing to make compromises.
· Large areas of land are not necessary to become self sufficient. Depending on what you produce and how you produce it, you can become relatively self sufficient on even a standard suburban house block.
· Bartering or swapping goods and/or services is a way of living often adopted by those interested in self sufficiency; although this does not strictly fall in line with a true self sufficient life-style, the barter system helps by removing (mostly) dependence on the monetary system.
· The concept of a system that is self-perpetuating, working within the cycles of nature is often part of the self-sufficient ideal. The concepts of permaculture, companion planting and alternative medicine all become part of that ideal - seeking to establish a self-supporting system both economically and environmentally.
What is needed to make a successful change?
Firstly In order to make the change from a reliant to a self-reliant way of living, a trade needs to be made: money for time. People who do successfully make the change often have a feeling of empowerment; they have reduced their reliance on purchased goods, finding that they really can live without the so called ‘trappings of modern society.’ Some have a sense of freedom; a narrowing of choice requires less energy. This time and energy must then be used to build, grow, sew, cook and so on in order to supply basic daily needs that were previously supplied by the money earned.
Once people realise they can trade money for time they need to consider their approach to everyday life; evaluate their real needs as opposed to their perceived needs. You may need to compromise to achieve a balance between the things you would like to have and the things you are able to provide yourself with. A self sufficient lifestyle might make you less dependent on society, but this might only be possible at the expense of giving up luxuries.
A good place to start is to look at and answer the following questions:
What can you live without?
What can’t you live without?
How far do you want to go in being self-sufficient?
What knowledge and skills do you have i.e. practical, management, budgeting and organisational?
What skills do you need?
Have you considered how much life will really change?
Do you understand the physical work involved?
Are you fit enough both mentally and physically?
Are you prepared to compromise?
On a practical level make up a list of all the goods and services you get from modern society such as, doctors, chemist (medicines), cleaning aids, meat, vegetables, cereals, clothing, and electric heating and so on. Then go through the list and note the goods and services that you think you could supply for yourself and also those you could not. Then have another look at the list and note all the skills that you already have and those that you will need in order to supply these goods yourself. From this you will gain a fair idea of where your skills and skills shortages are.
How to start?
In your own back yard!
· Understand the expectations of all who will be involved – yours might differ to theirs!
· Change your approach to life long before you make the change. Think of the lists you made up earlier and start by reducing your spending now and providing for yourself as much as your situation allows.
· Look at where you lack skills and start developing them: do a course.
· If you are living on a small plot of land start growing your own vegetables: the experience and knowledge that you gain will be invaluable when you finally make the change.
· Consider volunteering or WWOOFING before deciding where you will live. This will give you invaluable insight into how other people cope and what a self-sufficient life-style is all about.
(WWOOFING – Willing Workers on Organic Farms).
· Try to talk with others who have already made the change.
· Get fit!
Years ago I interviewed a couple that led a pretty well self sufficient life. Their first comment ‘this is our way of life’ was all revealing. They came from an age when it was normal for people to have a large family, grow their own vegetables, have a few chickens in the yard for meat and eggs, preserve food, recycle as much as they could, sew their own clothes, have water tanks, do their own repairs and provide their own entertainment. They did not have a romantic view of their way of living – it was just what they did. If circumstances changed they changed with it. They enjoyed the fruits of their labour, their family and life.
Keeping it real!
Once you are on the road to leading a self-sufficient life-style you may, from time to time, need to assess what you are doing and why you are doing it. It is very easy to lose sight of your original ideals in the toil of daily living. In the opening section of this article we looked at how in modern society people become fed up with the day to day grind of working for money and look to change to improve their lives. They trade money for time. They are to all intent and purpose providers in exactly the same way as you are in a self-sufficient life. Getting up everyday to go to work for forty or fifty years is hard. Getting up and providing all your family’s needs for forty or fifty years is also hard. The difference is that in the first instance you are there because society demands it, in the second it has become your choice. You may have chosen this way of life to improve the emotional and spiritual needs of all involved or it may have been a simple wish for an uncomplicated life, fresh air and clean food. Over the years you may need to compromise, take another path; think of other ways; but it is your original vision that you should always carry with you. To be truly successful in simplifying life: remember this isn’t a ‘sea-change’ or a ‘self sufficient lifestyle’ this is just ‘our way of life’.
The self- sufficient lifer needs to be in close contact with the rhythms and cycles of nature and also needs to be:
The authors of this article are staff orf ACS Distance Education. This school operates from both Australia and the UK, offering over 350 courses (Hobby and Vocational). See www.acs.edu.au, www.acsedu.co.uk
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