Jobs, Work, and Taking Control of Possessions (an updated ramble)

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Comfort in the parlour. Artist, John Edward Soden, ca.1836–1897.

Comfort in the Parlour. Artist, John Edward Soden, ca.1836–1897.

Possessions don’t make us happy!  Situations do.

Possessions, desire, covetousness, craving, yearning, lust; these forces drive humanity. Somehow each generation of moral thinkers know these things are ultimately wrong and look for something deeper.  With virtually every major religion and most schools of moral philosophy reiterating this through the millennia it’s surprising any of us even pretend to a higher conscience in the age where consumption is a human’s primary role.

taoist-monk

A Taoist monk wearing a coat made from cast-off scraps of cloth as a sign of his un-attachment.

And yet, each generation produces it’s share of radicals who cling to the hope that we can get more from life by having less. 

At some point, some of us have an epiphany about what is truly important in life.  It’s not the pursuit of money.  Life is short, so if you don’t enjoy what you do from day-to-day, them something needs to change.  Look around.  How many ways are people and companies trying to sell you something you didn’t even know you wanted?  Is it worth selling your soul, one hour at a time?  Not to me.  Not any more.  Like so many people before me, I wasted much of my youth.  Not all of it, but large swaths of time were sold away to an employer for mere money.  Not that giving time to a cause is an evil in itself.  Helping a friend, working with kids, or teaching a skill; all are noble pursuits and are, in a sense, work.  These things just don’t fall into that class of mindless drudgery that makes up most day jobs.

Filling a McMansion with junk is not a road to happiness. It's the road to enslavement.

Filling a McMansion with things you don’t need while struggling to pay the mortgage is not a road to happiness. It’s the road to enslavement.

Even in our hobbies, generally they are just fillers.  Something to be done in our leisure time, and somehow not part of “real life.”  Isn’t this backwards?  Shouldn’t we fill our days with things we love; music, family, reading, writing, wandering, or just plain idling?  We are taught to criticize the idle and there is possibly some logic to it.

At a family or village level, its easy to see how we might resent someone who doesn’t pull their weight; and rightly so, but that doesn’t mean we need to forget to live a satisfying life along the way.

I am often amazed how angry even the most privileged people become when they think someone is getting a handout for free.  Taking this to an extreme, people relish in the schadenfreude*.

I think many of us are that person at some point in our lives, but with  spiritual growth, this petty thinking will be only a phase.

vino_monaco

Finding your  joy.  In this case, a little wine, song, and presumably, camaraderie.

We have, as a society, confused real and honest work, with mindlessly stumbling to a job.  Even with a so-called “good job” most of us have no stake in our employer, other than making sure the check comes regularly.  Choosing to not punch the clock does not make one a slacker.  My friends and acquaintances who choose to live outside this system are the hardest working people I know.

They just don’t sell their lives cheaply for others’ gain.

kitchengarden

Maintaining a garden is work, but providing for yourself and family directly eliminates the constant need for the middle-men.

Taking control of your needs, even a little, alleviates some of the more abstract time demands paid out to someone else by serving yourself directly.  The most negative comment I have heard about doing these things for oneself is “I don’t have enough time!”  Yes, doing things like gardening or making clothes or furniture or tools takes time but at some point it becomes a trade-off.  Is it a bigger waste of time to commute and hour to work each way or spend two hours with the kids in the garden?

For me, there’s no question; and I’m certainly not the first person to reach this conclusion.

Indischer_Maler_um_1650_(II)_001

Finding your inner peace.  Dervish, with leopard and a lion, ca 1650.

I think this need for, or as a result of, spiritual awakening is the driving force behind many religious and philosophical movements over many thousands of years.  And, of course, they are all the one true path, religion, paradigm, whatever-you-call-it (leading to division, persecution, strife, and war; some irony, eh?).  Once the epiphany hits, there is realization that the system is not really necessary.  To make it through life, few possessions are truly essential.

Join me on a journey to a better life…

gandhi

A well-known photo of the personal effects of Mahatma Gandhi.

“Chase your passion, not your pension.”
— Denis Waitley

*Schadenfreude– the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune; an all-too common evil in humanity.

Thoughts About Minimalism and Survival

Learning a thing or two from the past…Part 1, 21st century Westerners are not the first to minimalize.

kylixdonkey

How much stuff do we really need to lug through life?

There’s a lot of recent talk about Minimalism as a social movement and this fits well with my personal philosophy and my interests in preindustrial technology and survival.  Not long ago, minimalism was mostly associated with artists, aesthetes, wanderers, mystics, and philosophers.  That is to say, the fringe element, outsiders, and weirdos.  These things come in cycles and I think, as a backlash against generations of sell-out philosophy and the creation of a professional consumer class, many people are reaching for something new.

We come to learn that everything old is new again.

I’ve been pondering history and prehistory on a full-time professional basis for several decades now.  As hard to believe as it may be, I even get paid a salary to do it.  One of my professional interests involves the tools, tool-kits, and strategies for surviving that various people have come up with for dealing with the world.  As a sometimes primitive skills-survival instructor and full-time frugalist I think it important to not reinvent a lifeway when we have millennia of ancestors who dealt with most of the same issues we do today.

San

A San bushman demonstrating fire-making.  Ostrich egg canteen in the foreground. These people probably resemble our ancestral way of life and have very few possessions, even in their harsh environment.

For most humans, for most of our history, owning too much stuff has never really been an issue.  We had what we needed and either made what we needed or did without the things we didn’t have.  It brings a smile to my face to know that more than 2,500 years ago, various thinkers people in China, India, Greece, and the Middle East were contemplating the nature and evils of acquiring stuff; some were even writing about it.  That’s not to say that I have immediate plans to become a wandering mendicant like a medieval friar (as appealing as that might sound to some) but I do have an interest in lightening my material load and some very specific goals for the coming year.

mendicant

Medieval European mendicants represented by a pilgrim and a friar.

My foundation as a minimalist (and I may not be very good at it)-

I have been thinking about what stuff a person needs to survive since I was a teenager who enjoyed backpacking and travel.  Like virtually every young boy, I had grand ideas of escaping the family and traveling unhindered across the world.  My family weren’t exactly readers but I devoured Jack London and Mark Twain stories as a kid.  I loved the extensive and well-thought out gear lists provided in the Boy Scout Handbook, the Explorer’s Handbook, and the Philmont Guides.  I read Larry Dean Olsen’s great book of Outdoor Survival Skills and Colin Fletcher’s The Complete Walker again and again.  I read about the mountain men of the fur trade, and always, took note of what they carried or didn’t seem to need.  I would copy lists into a notebook and revise them while sitting in some boring high school class, making my own lists of what I have, what I need, and what I want.  This thinking encouraged me to work and save money to buy a better knife, backpack, or camping stove.  I was probably the only kid I knew who wanted, and got, a file and whetstone for Christmas one year (my grandpa was good that way).  My friends and I spent our teens and early twenties hiking and camping year round, mostly in the woods of the Ozarks in southern Missouri testing our mettle at that time in life time when all teenagers know they are invincible.  Some of us even made it to Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond.

Books

A few of the many books I ended up possessing on a quest toward fewer possessions.

In a modern sense of survivalist, many people look to the military or the loonies of the social media.  Often, military service is the time when young men and women are introduced to such things for the first and only time in their lives.  Realistically however, the military itself acknowledges it’s shortcomings on a personal basis as (with the exception of a few special operations units) its entire system is dependent on lengthy and complex supply lines, support chains, and de-emphasis of the individual and personal decision making.  Military survival is generally approached as a means of keeping alive until help arrives.  Great for fighting a war, but not always so good when you are turned loose into the world.  This sort of survival strays from our point here anyway.

Just remember –

The things you own end up owning you.

~Chuck Palahniuk

 

More (and less) to come soon.


* here are a few links to modern Minimalists of various ilks and philosophical merit.  A journey through these links will hint at the breadth and depth of people on different paths but moving in the same direction.

Read, research, think, and enjoy!

The Golden Rule of a Minimalist Homestead

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

Wise words from William Morris.

William Morris

William Morris

This is the mantra that drives the entire vardo project.  I try to keep this in mind for every thing I add and every part I build.  Otherwise, isn’t it just junk?

Hamlet, A Tale of the Road Less Traveled

A mid-40s couple restores a tiny canned-ham trailer, leaves their mundane careers, and takes off on a journey across the continent.  Sounds pretty good to me.

When it comes to making enough money to get by, the two have a unique system.

“In our ideal setting,” Hutchison explains, “is four months of working somewhere, [or] four months of volunteering somewhere, and then four months of traveling.”

The little trailer has a Facebook link.  See more images and the restoration by clicking the photo above.

The little trailer has it’s own Facebook link. See more images and the restoration by clicking on the photo above.

FROM THE VERMONT PUBLIC RADIO ARTICLE:

“Many people spend most of their day in an office, and I was really, really tired of that and being tied to e-mail and my calendar.” Galiardi explains.

“We both had challenging careers,” she says. “The challenges were becoming, ‘How much more can I fit in?’ Rather than [fitting in] what I really want to be doing.”

Now the couple uses the trailer as a home base, spending much of their time outdoors: kayaking, biking and hiking.

interior

Dinette area.

On fitting the few things they own into a tiny space:

“It’s a lot like a sailboat. In that, everything has to have its place,” says Hutchison. “When you go look for that thing, it’s there. And then it goes back there when it’s done.”

ontheroad

If you are interested in learning more they have been keeping a blog of their adventures over the past few years.  You can read more by clicking here: Tales from a Mid-Lifeventure.

advert

Home sweet home.

The Wheel House

A ‘tender, post-apocalyptic love story’…

I want to revisit this minimalist performance art piece with you for the weekend.  Extremely clever, “acrobatic virtuosity,” street performance.

from the Acrojou website:

“A tender post-apocalyptic love story…” 
– Kate Kavanagh, review, The Circus Diaries

A gently comic dystopia, set in a different time where everything has a new value and survival relies on sharp eyes, quick hands, and, above all, friendship. Stunning design, theatrical acrobatics, and breathtaking moments of risk, all housed within an exquisite, hand-built structure. The Wheel House is a narrative show which unfolds inside and around a circular set as it rolls, with the audience walking alongside.

Acrojou’s flagship show, The Wheel House, has been toured and developed by the company for the past 7 years.

In this time it has been seen live by more than 100,000 people, been booked for events in 13 countries, and it’s online video has had more than 90,000 hits. It is steadily gaining the company recognition in the national and international media and has so far been featured in The Times, The Evening Standard and Freestyle Magazine (all UK), and newspapers and magazines in Asia, Holland, Switzerland, Russia, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. The show has been written about in over 300 blogs and online magazines, including Trendhunter, Design Taxi, Moscow Times, and ABC News, in at least 15 different languages. It has been MSN ‘Picture of the Day’ as well on the Flickr homepage. The image has been used for cover art for an edition of ‘Mr Pip’ by Lloyd Jones. It is still touring and is already penciled to visit Australia, New Zealand and Portugal all for the first time in 2015. It is currently the most widely toured of all Without Walls shows.

Commissioned as a walkabout by Without Walls (2008) and funded for development into a full show (2011) by Applause. With Direction from Flick Ferdinando.

Promotional film by Cristobal Catalan

Life, Destruction, and Incidental Use

rainforest

Every creature, large and small deserves a chance to survive. As a species, we can  do better than this.

“A pine cut down, a dead pine, is no more a pine than a dead human carcass is a man. Can he who has discovered only some of the values of whalebone and whale oil be said to have discovered the true use of the whale? Can he who slays the elephant for his ivory be said to have “seen the elephant”? These are petty and accidental uses; just as if a stronger race were to kill us in order to make buttons and flageolets of our bones; for everything may serve a lower as well as a higher use. Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine-trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.”

From: The Maine Woods, Henry David Thoreau

Henry_David_Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

This particular quote seems appropriate for my personal new year resolution of extreme conscientiousness in all consumption.  I am far from perfect but nothing should needlessly suffer on my account; especially for luxury and comfort.

GTC