What Do We Mean By Simplify? Part 1
You know by now, we are always encouraging people to simplify their lives. What we mean by that will be explored in today's article. Although there are unlimited ways to simplify, they all converge on the same destination: reducing your supply lines by learning to do everyday activities necessary for survival with local resources and reduced consumption. A thought experiment to ask yourself is, "what do I need to live on my property for six months without any major inputs from far away (grid-tied electric, public water, public sewer, grocery stores, etc.) What requirements do I need to enjoy life?" Now, brainstorm ways to reduce the supply lines in maintaining the quality of life you want.
Simplify Your Energy Consumption
You will notice in the above thought experiment we are not advocating for everyone to do exactly what we are doing. Your needs, expectations, and requirements are yours alone to specify. If you require AC to maintain sanity, work towards building your solar power system that provides enough electricity to meet your needs. Other options, such as small-scale wind and hydropower, could also be utilized to generate additional power.
On-site power generation significantly reduces your supply lines so you are not at the mercy of grid-tied energy. As large-scale electric power production will become spotty at best, local sources of appropriately scaled power help to simplify your life. In regards to keeping cool in the summer, CM and I started using soaking tubs where we can cool off during those stressful times. This has helped tremendously with keeping us cool both mentally and physically. We have also found that proper shading of the house from small trees and shrubs adds additional levels of temperature control without having to drain our solar battery bank using an air conditioner.
Simplify Food Production
Food production is one of the most significant areas we all need to simplify—i.e., reduce supply lines. It is essential to understand that simplifying your food supply is not about eating 2-5 kinds of foods. Again, it is about reducing the supply chains needed to get food from point A to point B (your belly). We need as much diversity as we can physically create when it comes to food at the local level, so I want to clarify the distinction when simplifying food supply lines. A family, community, or region producing most of their caloric needs is simplifying their lives to a local level. No longer are complex, easily disrupted global or national supply chains at risk of causing famine in your neck of the woods. Likewise, saving your vegetable seeds reduces your dependence on seed companies. You are responsible for what is grown and supplied at the household level. Multi-nationals and governments no longer have as much influence and control over you because a substantial part of your diet is generated at home. Doing so gives you tremendous food security in uncertain times. The skills learned in seed saving and general food production and preservation will significantly benefit you and those around you. Seed saving scaled up could also be an important source of side income when shipping costs and crop failure make relying on big seed companies more and more untenable.
CM uses the example of making pasta at home from wheat you grew in your garden. This fall would be a great time to prepare a plot to experiment with growing winter wheat. We are doing this by planting NuEast (a winter wheat variety bred specifically for the east coast) in a 40'x30' garden plot.
Instead of depending on wheat grown thousands of miles away, we are reducing our flour supply lines to less than 50 feet from our front door. Suppose you rely on flour as a significant source of calories but do not want to grow your wheat; purchase 5-gallon food-grade buckets and fill them with flour from the store. At the time of this writing, September 2022, flour is $3-4 per 10lb bag at Walmart. That is still very affordable to buy in bulk. Additionally, you reduce your supply line by having a large stash close by at home instead of relying on a weekly or monthly supply from a store.
I'm raising black australorp chickens at home and have two roosters to help perpetuate my flock. Since black australorps are a heritage breed, I also want to preserve this duel-purpose chicken so future generations can benefit. On a local level, breeding my chickens means I can offer chicks for sale to those around me, further enhancing community resilience. After buying chicks from big named hatcheries like Murry McMurray, I realized I didn't appreciate having my poor newborn babies shipped across the country and mishandled. In my opinion, McMurray does not have the best genetics as it seems like they are more about mass-producing a product than breeding quality birds. I wanted to reduce my dependence on such a system, and hatching my own chicks is a way I can do that.
As we head into an era of resource scarcity, size is another area where we can simplify. Raising 14 full-sized chickens showed me that my girls consume a lot of food. Despite rotating them through 6 pens around the chicken coop, not much is available during the coldest months of the year. Next spring, I believe the pens will be sufficiently fertilized so I can plant grain crops to help offset their store-bought feed. I think many chicken owners will need to consider the fragility of their feed supply and plan accordingly. Growing some of your animal's feed locally enhances your livestock's food security and welfare.
Small is Beautiful
Expanding on this thought, I plan to purchase my first bantam chicks in the spring of 2023. Bantams are miniature chickens that usually lay 1-2 eggs a week. The roosters are much quieter than full-sized birds, and bantams consume a lot less feed due to their small size. Time will tell, but I read that these smaller chickens do not disturb the garden as much as regular chickens, so I may be able to incorporate them into garden lanes.
Here is a hypothesis of mine. I believe raising miniature livestock breeds will be a wise endeavor in the years ahead. Miniature pigs, goats, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys, chickens, rabbits, or other small livestock breeds may be easier to raise long-term than full-sized breeds. I mention this because, as stated earlier, their smaller sizes mean they consume a lot less feed so that the small land owner can raise them without outsourcing most of their food requirements. Additionally, the smaller size means they are not as loud (theoretically), take up less space (acreage), can be housed in more modest structures (reducing lumber and housing cost), and can be processed/stored easier (what do you do with 1,500lbs of meat, off-grid, with a full-sized butchered cow?), and are a lot easier to protect. This last part is unpleasant, but when folks are hungry, that big horse, donkey, goat, or cow could draw unwelcome attention out on the pasture.
Believe me; I'm planning to turn a section of our storage container into a secure emergency chicken coop when food scarcity bites. I have no intention of having my flock molested by starving meth heads looking for an easy meal. Miniature cows or dwarf Nigerian goats would be much easier to securely house in a shed, basement, or garage if you wanted a simplified dairy source. According to the Livestock Conservancy, many smaller-sized breeds are in danger of going extinct, so raising your own would help perpetuate these wonderful breeds of livestock.
I'm sure by now, many readers are familiar with all the creative dwellings people have converted into tiny homes. CM and I live in a 40' shipping container that has everything we need to live a modern life but consumes a fraction of the resources a "normal" sized house does. For those living in 2000 square foot + houses, I would seriously encourage you to downsize. Even more so if you are still paying a mortgage on it. Simplifying your house is potentially one of the biggest areas people have issues with. Ego, entitlement, image, and a bunch of other societal mythologies play a role in hindering progress toward simplicity.
In case this point has been missed, simplifying means you are more resilient to life's ups and downs, you save money, your life has more value, you have more freedom to pursue what makes you happy, and you eliminate a lot of unnecessary stress. Smaller homes consume less energy to run, heat, and cool. That means more money saved to use elsewhere instead of basic survival. Smaller homes are easier to maintain as you age or as supplies become harder to find or afford. If you have kids and extra land available, consider building small detached outbuildings that will serve as your kid's "homes" in the years ahead under the disguise of "sheds." Around here the maximum size is 220 square feet. Anything over this requires a permit but anything under this square footage does not. Check out your county's website for more information on the size sheds can be before requiring a permit. Your kids will be able to live independently apart from you but still be close by to offer assistance. The same concept could be applied to those expecting friends or relatives to live on their property. You may really value having your own space away from these folks instead of them all living with you under one roof in a big house.
When it comes to finding places to build a tiny house, realtor lobbyists, as well as state and local governments, have made it challenging to put down roots. Still, there are numerous areas across the country where tiny house communities offer warm welcomes to those looking to downsize. In the state of Virginia, Buckingham county is tiny house friendly and only requires a proper septic system to be installed. Here in Appalachia, it's the wild west. As long as your house is not easily seen from the road or neighbors report you to county zoning, you can live in whatever you want. Believe me; people definitely do here.
The majority of alternative dwellings I see locally are RVs and converted sheds. In fact, my first tiny house was converting a 12'x24' Old Hickory Shed (see images below) into a home on my parent's land. The loft above with a closet and bathroom under left a lot of space for a kitchen and living room. This was a really cozy home and was plopped down right where I wanted it. These are only examples to get you thinking about what you could do in your locality. Remember, the county has to prove you live there, and most rural county employees do not want to be bothered by getting in their car and driving all over to see who is living in what or where. Proceed at your own risk. I am just saying it's possible. Be smart and obey laws, and take responsibility for what you live in.
Taking responsibility for our actions is critical. We do not have a septic system on our farm, so we needed to be smart with our human waste from the get-go. I talked about this process in the popular article Everybody Poops And What To Do About It, so I will not go into great detail here. It has been three years since we started composting our humanure and so far, so good. There is no leaching of materials into the surrounding soil, microbiology does its part, and black soldier flies help break it all down. These native insects run the sanitary department, and they do excellent work for free!
Personally, I love how easy it is to live in a tiny house. I think 600-800 square feet would be a sweet spot for us. I love that it takes less than 15 minutes to clean the whole house. In 10 minutes, the indoor temp can go from 40 to 70 when I light a fire from a handful of wood. When a homeowner in a big house has to pay thousands of dollars just on sub-flooring, we spend less than $200 for the same materials. That means after a build, we have money to buy nice things like a butcher block countertop, luxury vinyl flooring, or a beautiful wood stove. Speaking of stoves, the wood required to keep us warm is minuscule compared to a regular-sized home. I wrote about the benefits of smaller wood stoves in my previous article but suffice it to say; small spaces are where it's at going into the Long Emergency/Long Decent.
For inspiration, I wanted to show some creative yet beautiful ways people are adapting to our changing world. Some can be used for an AirBnB until you make the plunge to simplify, or you just go for it and have your "official" residence at a UPS store. I want to stress that those thinking outside the box on what is acceptable to live in will be able to adapt and thrive, while those wringing their hands about upsetting some douchebag county employee will be left in the dust.
Perhaps you have a house around 2000 square feet (or more sadly) and have no intention to move. By all means, do what is best for you. You can still find tons of ways to reduce the supply lines needed to run your palace. No matter the size of your house, conserving energy is a priority. A well-insulated home requires less input to keep it habitable. Consider reducing conveniences (yikes) that consume a lot of power, such as TV and microwaves. These items are useless. If your entitlements demand access to things like these, find alternative ways to power them that are not dependent on the grid. If there is a will, there is a way to reduce your supply lines for any sized home. The fact remains, however, that in the era we are entering, those smaller dwellings will be major assets while these mega homes will be liabilities.
If any of my words inspired you, feel free to check out the links in the Additional Reading section below. Part 2 will be out in the following week or two. This article would be much too long all combined, so it's best delivered in bite-sized pieces. Thanks for taking the time to read this important post.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Living Big Tiny House YT Channel