Not Preparing, Living my Life

Sharon August 22nd, 2008

I returned home to, among other things, a message from someone who wants to interview me for a mainstream media source, because I’m a writer about “preparedness.”  The interviewer asked me to estimate the likelihood of various scenarios and to talk about the questions of preparedness as an insurance policy.

But as I spoke to the interviewer, I found myself saying “Oh, but wait, that isn’t so much about emergency preparedness as about saving money.”  Or I would say “Well, yes, it is great in an emergency, but we also use it all the time.”  By the time we were finished, I felt that I’d lent myself to a subject about something I really know very little about - that is, preparing for a hypothetical crisis that may come someday.  What I actually am starting (and I’m still just starting) to know something about is living in such a way that I’m somewhat insulated (not perfectly) from a whole host of scenarios. 

The thing is, I can’t really afford a lot of “prepping” of things I’m not going to make regular use of.  Oh, I have emergency kits and a few things I store for a comparatively unlikely scenario, but as I began accumulating useful things, the best way to make sure I knew where they are, knew how to work them and was comfortable living with them and without other resources, was, well, to use them.  Most of us don’t make major purchases on the hypothetic “Well, Josie, there’s a 77% chance that you’ll get married sometime during your lifetime, so why not pick up a wedding dress and a pair of rings right now and hang on to them.” Now I don’t doubt that that’s the cheapest way to do it (ok, the cheapest way is to do what I did - don’t wear a dress and buy the rings at a rummage sale), but it requires that during the period of your life when you are thinking of other things, you begin to anticipate every possible scenario, and put money towards a future at a time when you may be struggling with a present.

So for me, while I do talk about the usefulness of a lot of items in future scenarios, I don’t want people to miss the fact that they are useful right now.  That is, right now, my solar lantern goes with me to the barn to milk the goats, and sometimes back to the living room to read by.  Right now my sun oven is cooking lima beans.  Last winter, and the winter before, warm clothes and warm blankets substituted for expensive heating energy. Right now we eat largely what we grow or get from our neighbors - even if we’d kind of like something else sometimes.  Now I do some of these things from principle, or because I want to know how to do them in a hypothetical future, but I also do them because I can’t afford, and don’t have time, to maintain the infrastructure for the whole of two lives - I can’t afford to have a regular, fossil fuel dependent life and an expensive, backup fossil-free one.  I can only have one life at a time - and I can afford my solar lantern because I use it to cut my electric bill now.

I think at the back of most of our minds is the idea that someday, we’ll use the hand grinder or the wood stove because then, we’ll have more time - we won’t have a job that sucks up our days, we won’t have all these pressures on us.  But all of us need to give some thought to the other possibility - what if we don’t have more time, and still have to do this stuff?  Even during the Great Depression, 3/4 of the working population had work - and others were able to work intermittently - but every day you had to get up and go where the work was and wait for it.  I think a lot of us are waiting for a life of comparative free time that may never come for us - in fact, we may be working more and longer, at least for a time, trying to maintain, and trying to learn to integrate these new tools into our lives.

What I do find is that using this stuff today frees up money for other things - and since money comes from my time, the net of using these lower input things is sometimes less total time on my part than I think.  The classic example of this, of course, is the bicycle.  Right now, many of us think we don’t have time to bicycle places, and there’s some truth to that.  Why don’t we have time?  Well, part of the reason is that we have to work an average of 2 months every year to keep our cars running.  Dumping the car may not be easy (I haven’t succeeded yet), but the time to bicycle is there - we have to figure out a way to access it.  The life with just a bike would be harder in many ways - but easier in others.  And while a car/bike life isn’t too costly or difficult, other combinations, in which both the fossil and non-fossil options are both kept going are harder and more costly - it is extremely expensive to lay in a winter’s supply of pellets or wood and install the stove, as well as keeping the oil or gas heat on.

I stopped by my friend Joy’s store today, to hear her lament that two of the nearby sources of bulk and health foods are going out of business in my area - one new venture, the other after decades.  Both are closing before the winter’s heating bills make closing no longer optional.  My friend is making it, thankfully, but she’s concerned about lost business from people who come in for sandwiches and sit - and who won’t want to sit at the temperature she can afford to keep her business at.  She’s looking into putting in a small woodstove, though, because she knows a lot of her neighbors will be at home in their cold houses - she wonders if maybe, just maybe, her small store with its source of warmth could bring people together out of their cold houses for a period of warmth and comfort.

I liked what she was doing in large part because I think that what she’s looking not towards a moment of disaster, but towards her life and her business’s future - sure, it will be cold, but instead of seeing it as an emergency to be navigated in crisis mode, she’s going forward into a new life and way of doing things.  Joy smiled at me and shrugged as I was on my way out the door, noting that they’d “just live differently.”  And that might be better advice than any “preparedness” expert could ever offer.

 Sharon

30 Responses to “Not Preparing, Living my Life”

  1. Beaweezilon 22 Aug 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Funny I should read this post today Sharon. I just got called this morning myself to do a short bit on CBC called talk of the town. It seems the producer reads my blog and was fascinated by the chicken tractor pics I put up.

    I keep rehearsing this in my mind, how to sell the idea of healthy sustainable food without making myself sound even more fringe and radical than I already am in this small town!

  2. homebrewlibrarianon 22 Aug 2008 at 1:17 pm

    What I do find is that using this stuff today frees up money for other things - and since money comes from my time, the net of using these lower input things is sometimes less total time on my part than I think. The classic example of this, of course, is the bicycle. Right now, many of us think we don’t have time to bicycle places, and there’s some truth to that. Why don’t we have time? Well, part of the reason is that we have to work an average of 2 months every year to keep our cars running.

    I ride my bike to work and on errands that I plan in advance. In fact, my preferred method of transportation is my bike and has been for over 30 years. But I’ll still jump in my car and drive to something because I’ve not given myself enough time to hop on my bike and ride there. So I’d also postulate that the reason many of us don’t think we have time to ride our bikes is that we’re still thinking in “car time.” We’re so used to errands and such as taking 20 minutes or less (okay, maybe up do an hour) and being several miles apart that having to double or triple the amount of time needed seems too much. I’m lucky that I live within a 20 minute bike ride to most of what I need but my dentist is a 45 minute ride and the farmer’s market on the south side of town could easily be an hour (and with no good bikeways to get there). I’m only guessing about the farmer’s market; I haven’t found 2 ½ hours of available time to find out.

    As long as we have cars that allow us to live far from markets, schools, work and recreational activities, the more all these activities will stay spread out. It will continue to be difficult to find the time to use a bike for transportation, safety concerns notwithstanding. The answer? Ride anyway, even if it’s around the block or to a neighbor’s place or to the neighborhood park. To choose to bike instead of drive has to come from habit and that’s exactly Sharon’s point. We all need to become comfortable and familiar with a lower resource world and only by doing it will that happen.

    Kerri in AK

  3. Julie Masonon 22 Aug 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Welcome back, Sharon! Your topic was right on for me, too. I was walking back to the office from the downtown farmers’ market, thinking–again–how I can shift more into the new way of life I’m trying to create while all my time and energy is spent living the old one. I keep wishing for that elusive “something” to happen to push me into an about-face, when really I can do it any time I want. I. Just. Need. To. Start.
    Thanks yet again for your words of wisdom.
    BTW, at my request, the local bookstore ordered copies of your book. Can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  4. Hausfrauon 22 Aug 2008 at 1:25 pm

    There’s a decent book out there for people who would like to get rid of their car - Chris Balish’s _How to Live Well Without Owning a Car_. Lots of detail, strategies, and ideas.

    This reminds me that I still haven’t started grinding my wheat berries!

  5. […] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » Not Preparing, Living my Life So for me, while I do talk about the usefulness of a lot of items in future scenarios, I don’t want people to miss the fact that they are useful right now. That is, right now, my solar lantern goes with me to the barn to milk the goats, and sometimes back to the living room to read by. Right now my sun oven is cooking lima beans. Last winter, and the winter before, warm clothes and warm blankets substituted for expensive heating energy. Right now we eat largely what we grow or get from our neighbors - even if we’d kind of like something else sometimes. Now I do some of these things from principle, or because I want to know how to do them in a hypothetical future, but I also do them because I can’t afford, and don’t have time, to maintain the infrastructure for the whole of two lives - I can’t afford to have a regular, fossil fuel dependent life and an expensive, backup fossil-free one. I can only have one life at a time - and I can afford my solar lantern because I use it to cut my electric bill now. Degringolade: Looking at it rationally August 22nd, 2008 […]

  6. Heather Grayon 22 Aug 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for this and the other post where you talk about trying out living without power or whatever etc., for a month. We’re still settling in at the farm and working on the odds and ends that come up in living above the in-laws, but we did finally buy a wood stove, which we’ll be picking up next week. It was a struggle to decide if we should go for a (primarily) heating stove or a cook stove, but in the end we went for the heating stove. That’s our priority in this (relatively) small space, and we can still do some cooking on the top of it.

    As far as trying out living a lower energy life, we can’t go electricity free - can’t afford solar panels and we both work from home (L telecommutes). But we’ve been getting up earlier to use more daylight this summer, plus all the other usual stuff. I think later this year we’re going to talk about what things we haven’t been doing yet and setting up to do a one month trial for some things. And of course still working on creative insulating, but that’ll be an ongoing project for the next few months…

    ***
    btw, I read an article somewhere this past week, on how if everyone were to suddenly change their lifestyles to paying off all their debt, buying local, living low-energy, buying/getting used stuff, and various activities that aren’t counted as contributing to the “market”, it would probably crash the economy. The article went on to explain why this would happen, but also how eventually it might bring about a healthier economy as well as being better for the planet, etc. I tried to find the article but no luck…

    The beans, potatoes and onions are doing well, as are the pumpkins, plus we got a volunteer acorn squash in the garden (FIL left a squash in the garden last winter and then plowed it under this past spring).

    I’ve been getting back into spinning this summer, trying to change some of my “insulation” from rovings to yarn for weaving/crocheting/knitting. I think I have enough spun that I can start a new personal weaving project this winter — fabric for a new winter jacket! So, I guess I’m doing my part to bring down the economy, one ball of yarn at a time….

  7. wasteweardailyon 22 Aug 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I would love it if you did a post on your solar oven. If you could tell us the things you cook in it and how long it takes. Haven’t seen the sun here for almost a week! Fay is still going over!
    Cindy in FL

  8. Rosaon 22 Aug 2008 at 4:16 pm

    This is perfect - I hope you didn’t spend too much vacation time thinking about the blog post, though.

    I’ve done the opposite for so long - just not accumulating or learning to use things that don’t support my life goals - that now that we’re looking to buy/build things like self-watering containers, a grain mill, a solar oven, a bike-powered gizmo for the laptop, a crank radio, I have a lot of resources to put towards that. Resources I never put into an electric mixer or a new computer or matching silverware.

    The car/bike thing you used is a perfect example - we have a car. One. Because we both bike or bus to work, we have the cash to shell out $50 for induction-powered bike lights. It’s a lot of money, but we didn’t spend it on gasoline, so we have it to spend on cooler stuff.

  9. Mrs. Greenhandson 22 Aug 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Another great post! I find so much inspiration from reading your blog - thanks!

  10. Karinon 22 Aug 2008 at 6:59 pm

    I am a late bloomer and didn’t learn to drive until I was ….gasp…38. I had always lived in small cities and either walked or took public transit. And now that I live in the country I need the car to get nearly everywhere. It puts a whole element of busy-ness to live that I never had before. A walk allows a life that is more introspective. Public transit provides some observation of my fellow humans that is more positive than the opinions of my fellow drivers.

    It’s a conundrum. In many ways country living has provided us with a strong element of self reliance. Many of those things that help us to reduce our energy usage are right down the road; wood lot, farmstand, wild berries, the animals growing in our yard for the freezer. But if we have to drive everywhere; especially work, is it worth it?

  11. Shambaon 23 Aug 2008 at 11:37 am

    Glad to see you are back safely, Sharon. Hope you and Eric had a good time.
    I have missed your posts!

    cheers,
    Shamba

  12. Verdeon 23 Aug 2008 at 11:52 am

    Welcome back, I missed your posts. I was trying to convince my neighbor just to borrow my grain mill if she needed - we don’t all have to own one of everythin. I think she’s going to get one and store it however.

    Getting set up is expensive. I’m canning much more than I ever have and just the purchase of the extra supplies is expensive.
    We have however had to live from our food stores to keep everything else afloat - just a few short years ago. It’s an experience you don’t soon forget.

  13. Wendyon 23 Aug 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I really like this article, and of course, you’ve spoken straight to me and expressed what I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around for some time - for me, it’s always been more about changing my lifestyle and habits NOW to save money, than about being “prepared” for some future I have no way of knowing.

    Kudos, for once again, hitting the nail right on the head … ;)

  14. TheNormalMiddleon 23 Aug 2008 at 4:35 pm

    I’d be curious to know what kind of solar lantern you have and where you can buy one. I’m sort of kind of new to all of this, and that sounds like something I CAN do!

  15. Rosaon 23 Aug 2008 at 7:59 pm

    Verde, if you were close, I’d give you canning jars & rings - I spend all year accumulating them and I’m having to admit I probably won’t manage to use all I have this year. I actually have a spare hot water bath canner right now, because i couldn’t just leave it sitting on the curb when I saw it. (The other is currently in the kitchen, processing. Tomato time!)

  16. Susan in Los Angeleson 23 Aug 2008 at 11:03 pm

    I too would love to hear more about the solar lantern and oven — I live in Los Angeles so those things would be used frequently!

  17. Susan in Los Angeleson 23 Aug 2008 at 11:06 pm

    I would be grateful for anything anyone could tell me about low-tech methods of water purification. I read about gravity water filter setups being provided to Bangladesh and sub-Saharan Africa, but nobody says who makes them or how!

    We live in a quake zone and need to store water, but the storage methods themselves (bottled and so on) have their own problems. On a daily basis we are using a tabletop Brita filter and it’s better than nothing, but not much.

    All advice appreciated!

  18. Hausfrauon 24 Aug 2008 at 7:35 am

    Hi Susan - some ideas for water filters and sun ovens for you to look at:

    Big Berkey water filter
    Katadyn water filter
    Global Sun Oven
    Tulsi Hybrid Sun Oven

  19. WOW Traineeon 24 Aug 2008 at 8:12 am

    Met with the sound of dripping water and absence of the freezer motor running, I find that my chest freezer has run amok. What a mess! According to the thermometer, the temp inside is 70ish degrees. Everything thawed out for how long I don’t know.

    My trash dumpster is full with stuff that I’m afraid to save/compost. I guess one good thing is that I had few really expensive products inside. Mostly, I stored bargain bags of flour, rice, sugar, mixes, coffee etc. I’m hoping I can rescue the articles I placed inside plastic bags.

    What’s done is done. Tomorrow, I’ll call the local dealer and try to find out what went wrong. After messing with the electrical plug, the motor began running, freezer came back on. The inside of the freezer began cooling off but the outside front became very hot to the touch. Fearing fire and chaos, I’ve unplugged the
    freezer. I feel kinda sick about the whole experience but am very fortunate that this is a small chest freezer.

  20. […] Says Sharon Astyk, who has been, and continues to be, a wonderful source of common-sense perception. She writes a lot of stuff that we’d write here, but instead are able to link to her articles. I think at the back of most of our minds is the idea that someday, we’ll use the hand grinder or the wood stove because then, we’ll have more time - we won’t have a job that sucks up our days, we won’t have all these pressures on us. But all of us need to give some thought to the other possibility - what if we don’t have more time, and still have to do this stuff? Even during the Great Depression, 3/4 of the working population had work - and others were able to work intermittently - but every day you had to get up and go where the work was and wait for it. I think a lot of us are waiting for a life of comparative free time that may never come for us - in fact, we may be working more and longer, at least for a time, trying to maintain, and trying to learn to integrate these new tools into our lives. […]

  21. Rebeccaon 24 Aug 2008 at 8:53 am

    Sharon,
    I liked what you said about just starting to live differently. Slowly, gradually all of us are starting to live differently. Here in the southeast the TVA is about to raise our electricity rates by 20%! on October 1st. That’s the second hike this year, and the largest since the 70s. So a lot of us (me included) are going to have to reduce our heat even more this year. Since I have electric heat, that’s easier said than done; it’s hard to close off areas with a central system. So I’m scouring thrift stores and yard sales for more blankets and warm clothing.
    -Rebecca

  22. Nikaon 24 Aug 2008 at 9:10 am

    By living the powerdown as an option, you manage the crisis.

    By buying an unimproved woodlot or a fixer-up bolt hole cabin in the middle of no where (without living there, just as insurance against the what if), stockpiling dried foods and mothballing a wood stove and some such, you make the crisis lurk in the cold sweat of your fears.

    I live in an area that does not have jobs I am qualified for, the closest is some 80 miles commute a day (thats what I do now), no biking that! It has been my quest for 13 years to find a way to work from home, it has never worked out. I do my best to continue with finding 1) telecommutable work 2) work that I love 3) work that fits with my newer passions in peak oil and permaculture (and which uses my scientific background). Not easy tho, have not found that magic connection yet.

    Your story of the store owner and the woodstove (an old one, the olden days) reminds me of a wholly different context but similar - when I lived in Athens GA as a student and was there in the summer, we would go to the 24/7 Walmart at like 3 am to wander the isles just to cool off. No conversation with others but we were not the only ones doing just this!

  23. Shambaon 24 Aug 2008 at 11:06 am

    FOR SUSAN in LA:

    I got my solar lantern at http://www.latoc.net. They have a store there with books and all kinds of products, solar ovens and solar lanterns and solar generators, etc. they also have access to many different food items.

    I bought my solar lantern from them but there may be other places to get them as well.

    Looking out for preparedness and a new way of life in Phoenix,

    shamba

  24. Shambaon 24 Aug 2008 at 11:09 am

    Correction for Susan in LA; I think I gave the wrong link. http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net is better. sorry.

    shamba

  25. Susan in Los Angeleson 24 Aug 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Thank you to those who posted advice and links — I am very grateful.

  26. Anonymouson 25 Aug 2008 at 4:04 am

    I could underline everything you wrote. Thanks for this great post!

    This is so true - it doesn’t make sense to buy everything you need for canning “just in the case of…”. When there is an emergency, you have to know how to use this stuff. And not only in theory.

    So the last weeks I was stocking up on canning equipment and glass jars (the WECK system, as I live in germany), a hand grinder, a good bike, and the last purchase was a food dryer - although an electric one.
    And I USE them every day, or at least every week.

    My husband is still sceptical about my expanded garden activities and about me buying all this stuff, so I have to prove him they are all useful and saving us money.

    I still have to convince him of chickens in the garden…

    Best wishes from Bettina in Germany!

  27. Matt Savinaron 25 Aug 2008 at 9:39 am

    One note regarding the solar lanterns: they will (eventually) wear out. I used to use mine all the time for pretty much everything but then the bulb burned out. Now fortunately they’re pretty cheap to replace (the bulbs that is). But the point is you might want to save it for when you need to use it or perhaps buy a second one. Another option - albeit expensive in the short term - is to get a battery powered light and then some rechargeable batteries and one of those solar chargers. I have a foldable one myself and it is quite nifty.

  28. SandPineon 25 Aug 2008 at 11:00 am

    FOR SUSAN IN LA -

    Check out this for a water filtration system, cheap & almost foolproof -

    http://www.pwgazette.com/gravity.htm

    These are good people to deal with.

    SandPine

  29. risa bon 25 Aug 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Matt, we went with a lantern that holds four D cells, we use rechargeables, and we replaced the incadescent bulb with a LED, which you can find nowadays. It’s not a brilliant light, as my poor eyes can attest, but the batteries last FOREVER on it, and the bulb seems indestructible. We’ve replaced all our flashlight bulbs accordingly. Suddenly we’re not buying batteries.

    Sharon, et al., it’s all true. You’re simply building resilience, and teaching this as a skill. When is that ever fringe or a bad idea? It’s fun seeing Survivalist News taking clippings of all your stuff, since most of my experience with that crowd echoes the funniest line in Tremors: “Broke into the wrong _____ rec room, DIDN’T cha!”

  30. […] Is it really preparedness or just day to day living? […]

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