The Freedom of Simplicity

If you’re any flavor of prepper, you hear a lot about self-sufficiency. Most of it is hyperbole, because I’ve never met a fully self-sufficient person and neither have you. Certainly I’m not one. Even if I lived in a place with actual soil, I couldn’t garden for my own subsistence if you put an RPG to my head and said “Play Scott Nearing or die.” Nor would I want to. I admire the self-righteous Bolshy for his abilities, but not for almost any of his beliefs.

I got to thinking about it this morning after reading an essay called The Freedom of Self-Sufficiency. It quoted a Laura Ingalls Wilder book:

“Truckling to other people for his living, all his days—he’ll never be able to call his soul his own.”

Yeah – maybe. Personally I never met a happy farmer, or a self-sufficient one. Maybe it was different 150 years ago. Dunno – I wasn’t there.

So I can’t speak to the freedom of self-sufficiency, because I think it’s a chimera. It’s not a bad dream, just not a realizable one.

But the point wasn’t in the self-sufficiency, but in the freedom – the ability to “call your soul your own.” And that, I think, is realizable. It may not be possible or even desirable to become fully self-sufficient. But it is possible to simplify.

In this society everything’s about money. All too often money’s how you keep score – the one who dies with the most money, or the stuff that money buys, wins. But it’s a cruel game. Dodgeball has nothing on the Money Game for blows received, enemies made, or arbitrary rules and perverse incentives endured. And when you burn out and fall by the wayside, they’ll get another that looks just like you. All the toys, all the pretties are cold comfort. I wondered how a fellow could reduce the need for money…

…And whether that was even a good thing to do. After all, this business of simplification can get awfully complicated. The matter of living without a lot of money can be damned expensive – just like living with a lot of it.

At this point I would go off on a long, self-congratulatory riff about my rugged individualism – except that there are people who will read this and know better. That self-sufficiency thing again. I’d never get away with claiming it for myself because without the kind assistance of others I’d be working a counter somewhere and happy for the work.

Let’s take a look at that Secret Lair I’m so proud of. M supplied the land, and the water, and the transport for virtually all the lumber, and a huge chunk of the labor in framing, sheathing and roofing it. Landlady and Claire provided the place I’ve lived while building it. Sure, I’ve tried to pay back in kind but self-sufficient? Hardly.

Still, there it is. I’ve got a roof over my head, and running water, and even the hope of electricity. It’s all a means to an end, and the end is not self-sufficiency, but simplicity. My hope is to reduce my list of needs to the point where they can be met with as little money, meaning time and aggravation, as possible. It’ll never hit zero. Things break and wear out, food doesn’t grow on trees. But I can find the reasonable minimum of “things,” and I can train my palate to enjoy simpler food. “Reasonable” and “Enjoy” – that’s important. The point of the exercise is not to become some sort of Anchorite, punishing myself for my own sins or the sins of the world. My own sins, I’ve largely paid for. The sins of the world are no concern of mine.

Why go to all this complication to seek simplicity? A couple of reasons. First and most immediate, I don’t quite suit the world anymore. I have offended people on high, and they’d throw me in prison if they found me. They still might. But honestly, that’s not the real reason. If that bothered me so much, I could make my peace with them. I’m not a criminal, except in a Mala Prohibita sense.

It sounds silly, just writing it out like this. But it’s not silly to me. I wanted to become comfortable with who I am. I wanted to be able to say “I am not what I do for a living,” and not be a liar. And if I’m not what I do, then who am I really? And is it a person I can happily spend time with? I spent so long trying to be what other people wanted me to be – in my work, in my family, in my belief structures, as a child and as an adult. For so many of those years I longed to be alone, and yet was afraid of being alone. Really alone. What if it turned out that, without those props to my identity, I was really – nothing at all?

It’s not a simple question. Finding the answer – finding simplicity – has not been simple.

It’s not like building a house, where one day you find yourself done. It’s a journey that’s its own destination. And maybe it’s a trip to nowhere. Certainly, as I’ve said all along, it’s not a trip I recommend because it wouldn’t be for everyone. I had a lot of the simplifying done for me – my wife and career are gone, my child is grown, I can pretty much do whatever I like. Even for people without those impediments, this trip is very likely not for them.

But it’s a trip I felt I had to make, for my own sake. So far I haven’t regretted a minute of it.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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4 Responses to The Freedom of Simplicity

  1. desert fox says:

    You’re wrong … food does grow on trees. Just not in the desert Southwest. Here it grows on spiney cacti and spiney mesquite bushes and pinon pine trees.

    Scott Nearing had lots of ideas that I can’t agree with. Actually, his wife, Helen, seemed to be the more rational one.

    They did however, influence me considerably to seek the self-sufficient. (Seek, but never find.)


  2. Mayberry says:

    Everyone has their own idea of what they want, need, whatever. The beauty of this country was, yes I said was, that one could find that place where they’re happy. Whether it’s a shack on a mountainside, or a sprawling mansion, one was free to pursue their dreams. Today, not so much. To a degree, maybe, but certainly not as originally intended. The point being that each of us should be able to find our own happiness, whatever form that may take. Hermits to hippy communes and everything in between. We all should be able to chose our own journey…

  3. M J says:

    I knew that there was a reason I liked your blog, like me you are a realest.

    I have done the prepper thing (extra food, fuel, water tools etc.) and I am as ready as I can be. However the fact of the matter is that within a year I would be hard pressed not be in serious trouble if the system did not rebound. So I see where you are coming from.

  4. CorbinKale says:

    Any type of ‘prepper’, eventually, has to come to terms with one basic fact. You can never be ‘done’. You can only be better off than you were the day before.

To the stake with the heretic!