Joel Bloviates about Stuff

Last November marked 15 years of fulltime Gulch living for me, 10 years since the Lair became … not complete, gods know, but habitable. It’s always good to reflect on how you’re doing, what could be improved, what needs to be changed or eliminated in your life – and also maybe give yourself an occasional pat on the back.

Example: I am a near-complete failure as a gardener. How ancient people sustained any agriculture at all in this soil, if they did, is a complete mystery to me. I am aware of large subsistence gardens that Mormons have been running for generations not 20 miles from this spot, and they’re … humbling. I used to ponder: They’re using the same weather I am, right? The same humidity? The same soil? What’s their secret ingredient, piety?

As time went by I learned that in fact they’re not using the same humidity, or soil for that matter. They’re on a plain, not in the mountains. They’ve been amending the soil industriously for those self-same generations, and they diverted a frickin’ river for their gardens. Oh. Okay. Joel off the hook. Experimentation has demonstrated that I could in fact grow food plants if I expended the effort and resources to build a greenhouse: That works, I suspect because you can control the humidity and soil balance, and reduce the major day/night temperature swings to say nothing of rodent thievery. But can you grow enough plants for sustenance? Oh, hell no. Not on the scale I could build. So stop beating yourself up, Joel.

My construction skills have definitely improved in the past ten years. Compare my embarrassing crooked-little-man powershed (admittedly built entirely with scavenged materials, but still embarrassing)…
…with the Lair’s bedroom addition.

I leave the Lair itself out of this because I was really just a worker on the main structure’s construction. It wouldn’t have done nearly as well if I’d been the one making framing decisions back then. The Snuffy Smith interior is entirely my fault. I like to think things have improved.

My personal health and fitness are certainly a lot better from living this way. No chronic stress, no McDonalds drive-through to sustain me on the constant commute. Lots more exercise.

But getting to the point I started writing this post about – my attitude toward material possessions has changed remarkably.

Something happened yesterday that brought that to mind. A kindly neighbor washes my laundry every week (which is a bigger help than I originally thought it would be because soft water. The advantages in winter are pretty obvious given that I washed clothes outdoors by hand for years) Anyway, I was putting clean clothes away yesterday afternoon when I came upon this…

Until yesterday morning, that was one of my favorite winter pillowcases. As with a lot of my textile goods, I didn’t buy it: I diverted its trip to a landfill I don’t know how many years ago. As you can see, I loved it till it was real. Or actually till it was a gun rag.

And it got me to thinking about how often I wore clothes out when I lived in the city. Truth is it didn’t happen all that often, because I had to keep up appearances. Typically there’d be a favorite weekend shirt too disreputable for work, and it would live with me till it died – but even then my time was so seldom my own that other demands kept me buying clothes more-or-less constantly and I’ve never in my life cared about fashion.

And it wasn’t just clothing: When my Mr. Suburban Man life fell apart I gradually got rid of literal tons of stuff. Stuff that at first I hauled around with me, requiring several trips every time I moved, which was frequently, and paid to store. Until things deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t afford a storage unit, at which point I was forced to a rational decision concerning all that junk.

I won’t preen and claim that I’ve become less materialistic since then – possibly the opposite is true. But I dragged those tons of unnecessary shit around for a couple of years not because I needed the stuff, but because possessing that stuff was what kept me feeling like I was a Real Middle-Class Professional – long after I had ceased to be anything but an increasingly desperate failed freelancer overwhelmed with bills and on the road to homelessness.

When I gave up and dropped out, my material situation abruptly became minimal: You can only possess what you can carry in a dilapidated Toyota, so choose wisely. (spoiler alert: I did not always choose wisely.) And from then to the present, possessions weren’t symbols of status anymore. Possessions were for the practical purpose of ensuring life and enhancing comfort.

I pause after typing that sentence, look around, and realize a bit sheepishly that I’ve got a lot of stuff. Certainly more than I absolutely need. But – save for my excessive sentimentalism concerning books and a few pictures on the walls – pretty much every bit of it gets used. Anything that isn’t used becomes a burden and is discarded as such. Acquiring new possessions is for the purpose of replacing other things that wore out, or improving the quality of often-used tools. The point is, my stuff doesn’t weigh me down anymore; it increases my capacity to live and to enjoy life.

(Sidebar: I didn’t intend for this to become a wall’o’words uberpost. Tobie is informing me that we’re an hour past walkie time, so I must pause and do my duty before figuring out how to conclude.)

I don’t really know the definition of materialism. Haven’t looked it up, don’t care. I am pretty sure that my attitude toward stuff is more healthy than it was 20 years ago. I own my stuff, it doesn’t own me, insert other trite clichés here.

And that’s just a subset of other healthy attitude changes that have helped me achieve my principal objective. I didn’t move out here to get in touch with nature, or to live unencumbered by the trappings of society, or to become ‘authentic,’ whatever the hell that means. I came here desperately wishing to achieve a contented life away from the harsh clamor that had become my whole environment. In what I still sometimes think of as the real world, I was not a successful person. I found something that works for me – I am not merely contented but happy with my life, may it never change. It probably wouldn’t work for most people, the very quirks that made me such a failure in an urban environment are what help me thrive here. And I’m always aware that even so I’m nowhere near self-sufficient: I doubt that’s even possible. So it’s always important to find ways of being useful to the people I need, because I basically live on their cast-offs. If I started having a motto, it would probably be “People throw away the damndest things.”

Try as I might – and boy, I did – I could never adapt to living the way people always said they wanted. I could fake it for periods of time, but sooner or later they were always dissatisfied with my performance and I was never anything but miserable. Abruptly going from failed suburban professional to budding young desert hermit also required a lot of adaptive change, and for a long time it was physically very uncomfortable. But those were changes I was not only willing but able to make. There were a few times when I wondered if I was even going to live – and even then, with the drinking water frozen and the snow unmelted from my threadbare boots and nearly incapable of facing one more pot of beans and rice, I found to my surprise that I was happy to be there: Happy for the blessed quiet of my hard and holy (though slightly better upholstered these days) place. I’ll live here as long as I’m able, for the first time grateful for every new day.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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6 Responses to Joel Bloviates about Stuff

  1. anonymous says:

    It sounds as if you are much more comfortable, living in your skin. Probably happier than 90% of the employed and propertied who are pecked to death by people and state who want a piece of the pie.

  2. SoCoRuss says:

    You don’t know how much I appreciate reading your blog. For years it has made a miserable work life bearable and that something better can be had and I’m so jealous. I checked everyday on the exploits of Bear, TB and now Tobie and it made problems bearable and I thank you for that. I was in a position making good money and bennies where I had been working for the Feds for 42 years and was miserable. The work was an off shoot of my military career so it was worth while but with the politics it just became unbearable for years. They let us remove bad people from the supposed bad guys groups but frown on us offing our own bad guy politicians and bureaucrats, go figure that one! So I finally pulled the plug in late 2019 and retired at minimum age and was planning on moving to a simpler life away from people but then came the Chinese flu! So we complied for the 2 weeks to flatten the curve that turned into 2 freaking years and by the time things opened up enough to go visit places and see what housing we liked, no one could afford that housing anymore! So I’m still looking and hoping things will calm down some to follow the dream of downsize to a point of fulfillment,but now we must have world war! There are no words.

    But if you want a garden in the southwest you will have to amend the soil somewhat, you have plenty of free fertilizer around from cows and goats. Use the Native 3 sisters method, it does work very well. That’s why that was the main method for Native for hundreds of years. You may find old windows for a DIY green house from rehab projects for free or cheap but its still work as good as a store bought green house. I did it for about 8 years here in southern Colorado. But finally got tired of it and just pay the grocery store whatever they want for less work.
    As I get older the work load doesn’t interest me any longer. But with Dementia Joe and the HO in office on our way to the Communist Utopia, I may have to go back to it to survive.

  3. Tennessee Budd says:

    Sounds like you’re much happier now, Joel, and I’m glad. I’ve read your blog for some years now–how long, I don’t know–and watched the changes with interest. Congratulations.
    I never even tried playing along with ‘normal’ goals & lifestyle. Never gave a shit what anybody else thought, so I just lived, and still live, my way. It helps that I was born a redneck, & we’re just that way.

  4. You own your stuff. It does not own you. Not that way for most folks.

  5. bill says:

    I really enjoyed reading that from you. I retired 2 summers ago and been busy at the house putting things in order and learning my new priorities. Presently going through boxes of clothes from my previous life that consumed me for so many years….adios white starched shirts that are now stained long sleeve work clothes and enjoy watching the slacks go up in flames in the burn barrel. What to do with that box of polished dress shoes?

  6. Goober says:

    “And I’m always aware that even so I’m nowhere near self-sufficient: I doubt that’s even possible.”

    Thank you for saying this. Too many people are going “off grid” with the attitude that they’re going to become “self-Sufficent” and “not need anyone else for anything”, which is an arrogant, short-sighted and quite frankly, wholly ignorant way of looking at things.

    These “entirely self-sufficient” people brag on and on while cutting their yearly firewood using a gasoline-powered chainsaw that they didn’t build themselves, running on gasoline that they didn’t refine themselves, to burn in a stove that, you guessed it, they did not build, and then claim with a straight face that they “don’t need anyone else to live”.

    Unless you want to start refining steel to build yourself a gas-free manual crossbuck saw, YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT BE SELF-SUFFICENT.

    And that’s just a microcosm of the overall amount of stuff that a person would need to live off-grid. Solar panels, wiring, pipe, etc. You aren’t going to build that yourself. You absolutely DO need other people to survive, and there’s no shame in that. There has never been a point in humanity’s entire history that people didn’t specialize, and help each other out. Primitive hunter-gatherer societies are actually a perfect example of one of the very few times that communism ever worked. These weren’t rugged individualists, they were communities of people wholly dependent on each other for survival.

    That’s man, in a nutshell. And it’s one of the things that causes me to respect you as much as I do. In spite of the curveballs that life threw you, and how shitty people treated you, you never lost the recognition of the reality that we absolutely need community. We cannot survive without it. You have done an amazing job of making yourself useful to your community, and to their credit, they’ve recognized that and rewarded you for it. And you make no noises otherwise – you know that you depend on them, as they depend on you, and recognize that that is how it should be.

    I’ve nothing against the off-grid movement, nor the desire to make life simpler, more pastoral, less urban, less regimented and less beholden to the whims of one person or corporation for your ultimate success and well-being. In fact, I understand that entirely, having given up the fast, monetarily lucrative urban life and career for a more laid-back and fun life out in the sticks. But no-one should abuse themselves with the completely incorrect idea that they could ever “leave” society entirely.

To the stake with the heretic!