Last week I shared some thoughts on Doing Less by Doing More. It was one of those posts that gets written because I'm thinking through something and reflecting on our own homesteading journey. As people began responding and sharing their own comments, I was struck by a wonderful point: modern homesteading may be all about simple living, but there really is nothing simple about it.
If I wanted to live a simple life, I would buy frozen dinners all the time or pick up take out, I would have someone else wash my clothes, I would hire someone to care for my children, and I would not keep animals. Think of how much simpler my life would be if I simply bought my own bread instead of baking it. Just as the commenter pointed out, simple living is all about a big picture, simple mindset, but it is not about putting your feet up all day. Simple living refers to taking joy in the simple things, and cutting out the noise in our lives that are extras. I often wonder what a homesteader 300 years ago would say if I told them they were living a 'simple' life.
Homesteading is hard work. There are animals to care for: everyday: all year. There are weeds to pull and crops to harvest. There are repairs to be made and hard physical labor. And there are always new skills to learn. Unlike in years past, most of us do not rely solely on our homestead for survival and have the option of running to the store for an extra loaf of bread when our baking fails, but for many homesteaders, that may mean a longer trip to buy fresh baked bread instead of a trip to the local grocery store (still not very simple). To live a homesteading life you have to take pleasure in the simple joys while working your tail off.
As individuals, homesteading is not simple, but how about for a community or culture? When we take the 'simple' way of simply purchasing something instead of making it for ourselves, it may be simpler for us, but somewhere along the line, other people are working hard. Think about the process of making cheese. If I plan to make my own cheese from start to finish, I need some sort of dairy animal, which means I need shed/barn, I need food and water, I need to milk the animal everyday, etc. I then need to process the milk, add ingredients (let's not even get into making your own rennet!) and let the cheese age. Wow, that is one expensive, hard earned, time consuming, and exhausting piece of cheese.
When we compare the process of making our own cheese to a commercial cheese making production as I imagine it: a farmer still needs to care for lots of dairy animals, the milk needs to be pasteurized, then transported to a cheese making facility. The ingredients still need to be added and the cheese aged. Then the cheese is packaged, transported to a store, shelved, purchased (with money earned at a job), transported, and finally makes it's way to you. I'm not sure how the whole process adds up, but either way, getting cheese into your home is no simpler when made commercially; it's just simpler for you. The cheese in the grocery story may not have been simple to make, but making cheese for yourself costs more money and is more work; so why do it?
To only reason to make your own cheese instead of buying your own cheese is because you find enough value in the process to outweigh the added cost and work. It is the value you place on the work, the value you place on the piece of mind, and the value you place on the process.
Homesteading is not simple: it is hard work in every way possible. The idea of simple living may lead you to choose to homestead, but the day to day realities of homesteading are not simple. The only thing simple is the choice: choosing to value the work, the process and the product.