How basic a lifestyle could I aim for?

Some years ago, I lived in a tunnel for about ten days and was very happy there; and now from time to time I wonder how much of my present clutter I wouldn't miss... although I think I have less clutter than many people, certainly less than many other householders.

I've started to think about what I really ``need'', in the context of self-sufficient living somewhere remote, perhaps as a hermit or in some sort of spread-out (semi-hermit) community. Some of the things listed here could be shared, as described in my notes on communal resource sharing -- I have marked them with {s}. Also, since I'm going for full simplicity, and, because sharing requires me to assume sensible responsible people if this is taken as communal, I assume that being in Christ we have moved on from the spurious ``need'' for fig-leaves!

Some of what I describe here would also be suitable as a base for partial self-sufficiency, which I'm much more likely to acheive (and to want). Perhaps some would disapprove of this on econmic and political grounds -- that I wouldn't be keeping so many people in work doing the things that I can't do, because I've learnt to do many of the things that many pay others to do; I wonder whether any western governments are trying to ban such a lifestyle?

So in general I am looking at ``What is necessary?'' and eliminating as potential encumbrances things that I don't really need. It seems easy to take something on as a pleasure and shortly find it, not you, is the master of the situation, and that you are ruled by something you brought into your life to make your life easier. This is perhaps a natural side-effect of our tendency (perhaps since the fall?) not to look further afield than we immediately need to. The example most obvious to me is the television; vehicles can also have this double relationship with us, sometimes serving, sometimes subjecting.

However, although I find that on the whole simpler is better, what is most basic is not necessarily the best, and there are some things which may seem like technological clutter but which have important good uses. The most notable example of this is hydro-electric power, which may seem like a high level of technology, but may often be the best solution to providing necessary heating (better than use of fuel which is non-renewable or does which is not renewed as fast as it is used). I have written a companion essay on appropriate use of technology which presents further ideas on this. Obviously, things which are expensive in terms of natural resources and human effort are to be shared between the community wherever possible.

An underlying principle is to use materials in accordance with their characteristics. Non-degradable (or slowly-degrading) materials should be used only for permanent (or near-permanent) constructions (rather than for temporary packaging as they are so often used now); non-replenishable materials (such as coal) should not be expended.

A few of the things I've decided on as `worth keeping'' may come from a higher-technology setup, but on the whole I've chosen things which are easily produced with simple tools and little energy.

Useful things

Here is my list of what would be useful for a very pared-down lifestyle, with further descriptions and justifications for some of them. See also the lists I drew up of things I want with me that I drew up when planning my move to a narrowboat.

For residence
Shelter from rain
This will normally take the form of a simple house, with walls, roof, windows, floors and doors.
Water supply {s}
Here is one of the higher-technology parts, with a filter head, pipes, and taps, unless the house has a stream passing very close by. There might even be a pump, but if possible the water would come from uphill from the house.
Toilet of some kind {s} -- note: find alternative to paper!
For cooking
Stove, sheltered from wind {s} -- note: solar / hydroelectric preferred!
Pans {s}
Millstones {s}
Cooking Implements {s}
Plates, bowls, cups.
Bible {s}
I can manage fine without this, but some people like them for meditation.
Other books {s}
Herbal supplies {s}
Can be grown locally.
Bandages etc {s}
For farming
Digging and cutting tools {s}
Mostly brought in.
Dry storage for produce {s}
Fishing net? {s}
For writing
Paper could be produced locally, but might not be particularly good quality, so this might be bought in.
Pens and ink
Traditionally, pens have been made from feathers of large birds; but I might prefer to stick to fountain pens.
Writing desk or table
There wouldn't be much furniture; this would be one of the few specialized pieces.
[Computer and solar panels?]
An interesting variant of such simple lifestyle is to be partially self-sufficient, and do some work for money to buy in whatever else is needed (and pay off the mortgage for buying the land!).
Place to keep books etc [{s}]
Just whatever is needed would be worn... so clothes will typically be straightforward and warm, and people might well not wear anything when it's hot... I'm assuming that such a community will be made of responsible people who won't regard this as an opportunity for lust (and, as I've found from saunas etc, you soon get used to seeing undressed people anyway, and hardly notice before long). (See also someone's note on the ecological aspects of clothing!)
Warm cloak with hood
Bag for carrying things
but things are to be avoided except where things are appropriate
Working breeches and tunic with hood
Shoes (clogs?)
Spinning wheel {s}
Loom {s}
Boat {s}

Mediaevalism? Not really

This may all sound like an attempt to return to a bygone age, but it isn't; it's a picking and a choosing of good things from various time and places, selecting the best of old and new, and letting drop worthless things that may try to come along wth some useful ones.

Going back to much earlier stuff, see a page about Skara Brae neolithic village, Orkney, where the life of the early settlers was probably not as uncomfortable as might often be assumed.

Simplicity and poverty

It may seem that I'm glorifying something similar to poverty, and making a plaything of something that for many is an afflication. This is a large enough question to merit a page of its own, Simplicity and Poverty.

Making a start

How much can I make a start on this where I am now? My house is pretty simple but not that simple, for example, and my clothing is modern because tunic, britches, cloak, hood and clogs would arouse more comment than it's worth. I think. Perhaps I ought to try it. People might object to the codpiece, of course. I wonder?

John C. G. Sturdy
[Simplicity index] [John's home] Last modified: Sun Jun 10 22:12:57 GMT Daylight Time 2007