The Anyway Project, AKA Whole Life Redesign

Sharon November 1st, 2010

It hasn’t escaped my notice that today is November 1, and I’m supposed to be starting the Whole-Life Redesign Project. In fact, I am starting it - I’m taking the opportunity created by my kids being out of the house to move all the food storage around and clean under things and get rid of things (hmmm…should there still be baby cereal in the back of my food storage, given that the baby turned 5 on Friday…ummm….) and otherwise make a giant mess in my house in the general hope of making it better afterwards.

What I haven’t done is sit down and write out the parameters of how this project is supposed to work as a group effort - and that’s not for lack of trying. Despite a number of drafts on this subject, I find myself uncharacteristically at a loss for words - or at least a good way of framing this.

The part that seemed hard is the way of making this seem as fully relevant to a single mother in a Budapest apartment as to me in a rural New York farmhouse, to an elderly couple and a single college senior as to a big family like mine. I know from the response i got that people felt that there was something there that connected to them - even given our differences, but what parameters to set on things for everyone, I couldn’t find.

It was different in my two other year-long projects. The first one, the “Buy Nothing Project” was very clear - for a year we tried to buy nothing but fuel and food (and spend less on both of those). And for the most part, we were successful - there were some failures, but we cut our expenses and the folks that did this with us mostly found that the parameters were clear. Don’t buy stuff. Ok, got it.

The second project, The Riot for Austerity, was harder, and required more figuring things out. The goal was to cut our use of energy by 90% over the American average. This did require figuring out what counted and what didn’t (how, for example, we counted technically carbon-neutral wood heat, how, for example, we calculated local food…) but eventually those details were worked out, and again, it was pretty simple. Don’t use much energy. Again we weren’t perfect, but we made deep and long term changes in our lives from the project.

The Independence Days Project has been ongoing and focuses on integrating basic food and subsistenct activities into daily life - that too has been a success and a pleasure, and that one seemed perhaps closest to what I was getting at - but there were so many pieces. Not for nothing was I using the uneuphonious “whole life redesign” name to describe this project of sorting out my life - and inviting other people to share in the project. So how to narrow it - and to narrow it in ways that were open to people with different needs and realities - but the same desire to have a working whole.

Framing this seems harder to me, maybe because it overlaps with so many things. There are a lot of people out there with a program or an idea that covers a portion of this. They’ll help you get out of debt and cut your expenses. They’ll help you declutter. They’ll help you organize your time. And all of those things are part of this - but they aren’t the whole.

When I sat down to think about what this project actually *is* as a whole I found myself struggling to articulate what this was about, and why it felt so important to me, and I found myself back at my favorite thing that I’ve ever written, the riff I wrote on Pat Meadows’ wonder idea, “The Theory of Anyway”.

My friend Pat Meadows, a very, very smart woman, has a wonderful idea she calls “The Theory of Anyway.” What it entails is this - she argues that 95% of what is needed to resolve the coming crises in energy depletion, or climate change, or most other global crises are the same sort of efforts. When in doubt about how to change, we should change our lives to reflect what we should be doing “Anyway.” Living more simply, more frugally, using less, leaving reserves for others, reconnecting with our food and our community, these are things we should be doing because they are the right thing to do on many levels. That they also have the potential to save our lives is merely a side benefit (a big one, though).

This is, I think, a deeply powerful way of thinking because it is a deeply moral way of thinking - we would like to think of ourselves as moral people, but we tend to think of moral questions as the obvious ones “should I steal or pay?” “Should I hit or talk?” But the real and most essential moral questions of our lives are the questions we rarely ask of the things we do every day, “Should I eat this?” “Where should I live and how?” “What should I wear?” “How should I keep warm/cool?” We think of these questions as foregone conclusions - I should keep warm X way because that’s the kind of furnace I have, or I should eat this because that’s what’s in the grocery store. Pat’s Theory of Anyway turns this around, and points out that what we do, the way we live, must pass ethical muster first - we must always ask the question “Is this contributing to the repair of the world, or its destruction.”

Here I found something of the central organizing principle for my project. Because what I want is to have a life that works - one that works whether the money is coming in or not, one that operates whether the lights are on or off, one that works and gives us what we need and doesn’t use what we don’t need. That’s what has been missing - in the rush to get things done, the rush to go forward, I’d stopped asking quite so often what was right, and was making do with what is.

And because figuring out what you should be doing “anyway” means going against the natural grain of our lives - it means stopping and taking apart the things that are givens and reconsidering them, that takes time. And finding ways to make those things economically viable, finding the time to do them and building the skills to integrate the right things into your life in such a way that they become natural and a part of you, well, that’s a project. Because it isn’t something our society makes easy or cheap, or accessible.

That said, I have perfect faith that most of them are achievable. After all, when I started the Riot for Austerity with Miranda Edel, what everyone told us was that we had to wait - that cutting your energy consumption as dramatically as that would require government programs and subsidies and a whole host of things that we had to wait for. But those things were not forthcoming - they are still not forthcoming, and we found - and hundreds and hundreds of other people in cities and country and suburb, in 20 nations, and all over the world found, that it was in fact possible to do most of this now, with what you had, cheaply in the life you lived. That we didn’t have to wait. But it took a lot of time and thought and talk and support and figuring.

So I feel I can trust that all these things - that a life lived as rightly as possible is achievable. Moreover, I feel that I can trust that it is better achievable in a group - with all of you filling in ideas and arguments.

I was very fortunate that my editor, Ingrid and my publisher, New Society also felt that they wanted to participate in this - one of the big questions was whether this is an entirely separate project from my Adapting-In-Place book or something else, a part of it - the project of integrating my life today with the life I anticipate tomorrow, and making them work together in greater synthesis. Ingrid and New Society, despite the fact that the book has already been delayed once, trusted me and this project, and that including it would make a better book. So this will be a story I tell in the next book - thanks to them and their generous willingness to wait and see and risk something.

So I’m renaming this “The Anyway Project” - because I think that’s what it is. The goal of the project is simple - and huge - to ask how we can live the life we ought to be living anyway now, where we are, with what we have.

I’ve divided up the project into seven categories (somehow I always end up with sevens of things ;-) ), and offered suggestions for how other people might do this. In my next post on this subject, I’ll list off my goals and my time frame on each project, and my plan is to do monthly posts, on the first of the month to talk about what progress I’ve made. I hope you’ll do the same! If there’s enough desire, we could certainly set up a discussion group, but I do want a lot of the conversation to take place here and at my other blog, because I think that the conversations here are so good.

Here are the categories and how I’m thinking about them:

- Domestic Economy

This is the territory of home life. Here’s where we start thinking about what we want our home life to actually be like. For me, the critical requirements are less cluttered, less disorganized, a home that functions better in relationship to what I actually do and intend to do at home. I’d like to set up the house in order to be able to bring people here for some of my teaching projects, and also to use some of the space for farm projects.

- Household Economy

This is the territory of making ends meet and meeting financial goals. My goals here are to up the portion of our personal economy that comes from barter and personal exchanges, to drop our expenses by 20% and transfer the money to savings and to infrastructure like insulation that will cut expenses in the longer term. I want to have a plan for dealing with money and benefits cuts that we expect on Eric’s end.

- Resource Consumption

This is the territory of what we use. Our lives are enhanced when we use less, and so are the lives of others and our environment - it is as simple as that. We’ve seen some creep in our energy usage, and we need to get it back down. Right now our family of six is using less than 1/5 the US average (and most of those are based on household numbers with the average US household being 2.6), but I want to get back closer to 1/10th which, while not a fair share, is a lot closer. We need to get back in the habit of accurate bookeeping on our energy usage as well.

- Farm and Subsistence

This category may be more relevant to us than some people, but everyone does some subsistence work. For us, we want the farm to be the center of our lives, and to integrate ourselves more into the farm - that is, we want as much as possible my work and our lives and the farm to be one thing. For a long time we’ve used Eric’s work to subsidize the farm, but now it needs to be self-supporting, and that’s part of that equation, while we also expose what we’re doing in low input agriculture to other people. We’d also like to up the degree to which our subsistence activities teach and help others.
Most of all, I want to do a full evaluation of all our projects, both so that others can begin to understand them, and also to make sure that we are doing everything we do as well as possible.

- Family and Community

This is a big one for us - the reason we considered moving earlier this year was the desire for a closer knit community - we had that but have seen some changes over the years. But the reality is that we’ve been allowing those changes to frustrate us, but haven’t necessarily worked as hard as we could to compensate. So our goal is to spend more time working on our community building, and bringing our far-flung communities and our local ones into a state of connection. It is sometimes hard to be so far from our family, from close friends, but if we can build better on what’s near us, we can reach out through a chain of links, rather than across a wide distance.

- Outside Work

If my children were hungry, I would and could do any work necessary - there is no doubt about that. But while my family lives on comparatively little money (we qualify for food stamps in our state, although we don’t use them), we also have enjoyed the fact that we have the luxury of choosing our work. In many ways, we’ve had an enormous luxury - my writing and teaching and farming didn’t have to pay much, because Eric was subsidizing them. Now my work may have to support us, but I still want, to the extent that’s possible, to make what I do the right thing to do. I am enormously fortunate, in that I can earn money doing what I care about, and that I have had the luxury of giving things - my writing, my farm products, etc… away for free. Indeed, often the return of giving things away has been greater than those I use for money - but I don’t live entirely outside the cash economy, unfortunately. So I need to balance my work - find the ways to make some money doing what I care about, while reducing expenses, so that I have the luxury of keeping giving things away.

- Time and Happiness

In the end, these balance sheets have to be even for me to begin to go forward. The good thing about this is that I know how easy it is to even up this part of the equation. My husband and children and the farm and gardens, friends and family give me a deep, inner core of happiness. Whether we stay or go, whatever changes we make, whatever we do without or give up, if I have some simple things - a little dirt (and I don’t have to own it) and the loves of my lives in place, I am not afraid of the future, and I am happy. The thing that buys me the most happiness is time - but it doesn’t have to be free time. Indeed, the thing that gives me the most comfort in the world is knowing that Eric and I can spend an entire day working in arm’s reach of one another, with the boys helping and playing around our work, and know that at the end of the day, all of us, exhausted, will have found the time well spent. Finding time and finding happiness, are not, for us, a matter of more vacation time or things we want to try - they are simply the by products of trying to bring the pieces of our lives together.

I suspect most these categories will have something people want to address and perhaps change, even if your list doesn’t look exactly like mine. I’ll post in the next day or two a list of specific goals in each category, and how I plan to go through and track these. I hope you’ll offer suggestions and ideas as well!



17 Responses to “The Anyway Project, AKA Whole Life Redesign”

  1. Laura says:

    Sharon - I think the rename for the project is a great idea. I’ve already started in de-cluttering my home to make the space the work the way I want. I look forward to seeing the goals that you have for each category that you have selected. I will also post when I get to a list that works for me in those areas. I look forward to seeing our progress as a group.

  2. carol says:

    the paragraph you cite above from Depletion and Abundance is one I have used at least twice to get “the point” of much of what our family is doing across to other people I love. I also shared with my husband when I first read it two months ago, and it clicked. We were just beginning to frame where we are now and what we are doing, along these same lines - just in time to hear you declare it a Project. I would be delighted to come along on WLR. This will be my third I think, and each one is richer and takes us farther. Perhaps we’re gathering steam….

  3. carol says:

    Since you said, “I hope you’ll offer some suggestions”, the following, for consideration, on each of the Seven:

    Domestic economy: would you also add here planning for co-habitation (brother in law, parents), creating a haven (rather than a bunker), reclaiming the private sphere: re-learning, learning or sharing related skills/arts (weaving, knitting, food preservation of all kinds, sewing, cheesemaking, winemaking, etc). Teaching of children as well as decluttering of home?

    Household economy
    pay off debt, purchase quality tools.
    But also, is charitable giving something supportable in Adapting in Place world? Should it be, or should we do this through community building. Seems as if we should still consider economy to include giving monetarily (particularly through groups that foster self-sustaining/microloan/Heifer project, etc.) or local populations in need

    Resource consumption: fair share useage, also sourcing resources closer to home/land (hand-pump your well water, generate some solar, or wind power) so as to “grow what you use” and reduce less of globally limited easy energy.

    Farm and Subsistence
    I want to change “subsistence” to “abundance” here, but just put up with me…

    Add or consider instead, “husbandry of land and animals” - that would include the person renting a room in a house in a subdivision (who could harvest her neighbors wild greens), a person who might not be growing much food but is learning to manage their 2 acre woodlot for fuel, someone sharing a community garden plot learning to grow from seed and someone with lots of land raising her first chickens - all under one “roof”. You’ve written about making use of common spaces and common natural resources, and think it helps people see how farming and foraging and subsistence isn’t really about where you are or how much land you have, but can be about a state of mind that grows plants in window boxes or picks dandelion greens in front of the library. If we ever are able to see a day when suburban lawns are reclaimed for victory gardens, I think the idea of stewardship and husbandry needs to come first: that gives one the eyes to see the world around you in very different terms

    Family and community
    Interdependence of same. Also - extended families, barter networks, starting the informal economy in your neighborhood, how to “get out there” when already busy with the other six WRL components (potluck anyone?), starting projects that require communities to work together to create something positive (apple butter, barn raising, etc)

    outside work
    How much is too much? what’s the right standard - (same workday as a medieval serfs?) - choosing outside work that aligns morally with the other six when possible… calculating true cost tradeoffs, integrating your life when you’re living in two realities

    time and happiness
    more of both please

    And one more question: is there a place for Self in whole life redesign? I realize that who we are is expressed through all these seven ideas, but do think we need space for soul to breathe, even if what we do in that arena is to find mindfulness in the moments created by the other seven ideas. But if so, I think a place should be made at the table for it somewhere. Unless you think it lives under #7

    my 2 cents.

  4. Jenn says:

    I love the logic here (both yours and Pat’s “Theory of Anyway”), and I’m looking forward to thinking through some of these things and getting started. I’ve been more lax than I should be on at least a few categories recently (if not more), and it’s time to work through some of these ideas. Decluttering and refiguring the apartment was already my goal for November (in case we stay or go), but this gives me a lot more food for thought as well.

  5. Mavis says:

    Hi Sharon,

    I remember when I first read about Pat’s Theory of Anyway on your blog a few years ago and I used it several times immediately afterward in conversation and posts elsewhere, on the Quaker testimony of integrity.

    I look forward to your writing and expect I’ll be referencing your upcoming blog posts again as I am working on a more modest scale on a First Day School curriculum for young Friends (urban teenagers).

    I’m developing queries that will tie the testimony of integrity (in the vein of the Theory of Anyway) to the other testimonies of simplicity, peace, community and earth-care. I can see there will be a lot of overlap with your TOA categories and I know you will provide a lot of inspiration.

    What I’m going to be returning to is how integrity feels when one makes choices, not because one “has to” (deprivation), but because integrity “inspires you to” and therefore, instead of deprivation, the same choice becomes spiritually nourishing. How acting in a way inspired by conscience (acting with integrity) creates a calm centre. How living in this way feeds one’s ability to make better choices (use discernment) and the whole thing can gain a healthy, giddy momentum. Acting in accordance to one’s conscience can free up a lot of strength to do hard, unpopular but necessary things.

    For the curriculum I’ve been going through writings by Early British Friends, American Friends such as John Woolman, and more contemporary Quakers such the founders of Greenpeace (who are familiar to the kids here and who I hope will make them feel that this way of living is not something of the distant past but of the active present).

    If I come up with something interesting that ties in to you project - I’ll be sure to share.

  6. msbetterhome says:

    Thanks Sharon, for all the thought & feeling you have devoted to drafting this. I am moving house next week, and am approaching my ‘performance’ review at work. Thinking about the various what I want to be doing ‘Anyway’ will be very fertile ground indeed. I resonate deeply with your categories, despite being a childless, city-dwelling university lecturer.

  7. msbetterhome says:

    whoops… meant to write “thinking about the various ASPECTS of what I wat to be doing ‘Anyway’. End of a long day!

  8. Anyway… « Better Homes & Dungeons says:

    [...] Astyk has transformed/developed her proposal for a ‘Whole Life Redesign’ into the Anyway Project. Her categories are currently defined as follows. I’ve just copied them for now, and have [...]

  9. Wendy House says:

    Hi there - I have just completed reading your book “Depletion and Abundance”. I had borrowed it from the library but this is a book I am going to buy. I don not want to return it. I also want a copy as a loan copy - where I can encourage others to take a look and get thinking. I am so in the early stages but like they say every journey has a first step. I have been reading so much and your book helped to consolidate it all. Thankyou so ever much for the time spent writing and sharing this.

    I am going to sit down over the next week and write up my own “Anyway Project”. I will post this on my blog. Direction and order is definately needed in my life. And like so many of your other comments I also have found that passage in your book about ANYWAY to be truly inspirational.

    I really look forward to following your blog and further writings.


  10. Zillah says:

    Thanks Sharon, this looks really interesting and challenging. I hope to get the chance to respond to your excellent outline over the next few days.

    Hello to everyone else undertaking this challenge! I hope we’ll get to know, support and challenge each other over the next month.

    Mavis, I’m also a Quaker, and have often thought of the overlap of Quaker ideas and those we intend to explore here. So I look forward to reading any ideas you come up with!

  11. Evey says:

    Another Quaker here. DH and I also will be setting up a 1 year plan this week and will definitely start Domestic Economy-with clearing out and organizing our personal space (one bedroom in an old farmhouse shared by 5 adults and a 4 year old) so it is more functional and welcoming to be in. This will be our first winter all here together and we in the Farm Family need all the support, and physical/emotional space, we can give each other to get though the cold, mostly inside months.
    Can’t wait to see other’s plans for the TAP challenge.

  12. Susan in NJ says:

    Thanks for this Sharon and glad to hear that it is working in with your next book.
    I hope to take a crack at this re my household this weekend.
    My 2 cents re Carol’s “subsistence” v. “abundance.” I think these are two different things — although they can overlap or even be entirely coextensive for some people. To me subsistence is a minimum goal, abundance in subsistance a higher goal (and part mindset), and abundance alone channels too much of the standard american paradigm of excessive abundance. I know this wasn’t what Carol was getting at, just another take.

  13. Deborah says:

    I so appreciate all that has been written here. I would add another aspect: health. My mother, who is in her 70s with osteoporosis, reminded me the other day to take time to take care of myself. While I think I get lots of exercise from working on the farm, it’s sometimes not the right kind of exercise. In fact, I may toss and turn at night because I’m in pain from the “exercise” I did the day before. So I would add that we need to remember to take care of ourselves. To eat well, to stretch, to rest, to try to find ways to do work without injury. To remember to pace ourselves, that working carefully is better than working quickly.

  14. The anyway project « Urban Adaptation says:

    [...] a comment » Sharon has graciously posted her outline of The Anyway Project (AKA Whole Life Redesign).  I’ve looked it over!  I’m inspired!  I’m ready to go!  And…I’m [...]

  15. Sara: in northern rural Alabama says:

    thanks to all the Quakers who have spoken up that they are “in” on this project. That just may be what convinced my beloved partner to give it a “go”, so we are “in”. whew! just working on consensus for trying this as a team has been good for us already!

    blessed be from this Jewish-Pagan-Quaker!

  16. Connie B K says:

    I also struggle with these issues. As a fellow Jew, Tikkun Olam, is very important to me. Will look forward to more details.

  17. V Schoenwald says:

    I am starting the long haul to de-clutter my space. I live in a rural/urban trailer park prison that I cannot escape from so I “make do” with what I have to work with.
    Goals are set, as you can do them, in the amount of time that you have. Like mentioned here, do them as you can, and if it doesn’t get done that day, tackle it tomorrow.
    You also must be secure in your thoughts as to make the changes necessary to fulfil your desires or goals. It is difficult and you will fall of the wagon because of certain circumstances that sometimes you have no control over, (cannot find things to make the change or limited access to things), but you manage.
    Love your blog, and the community that it brings.

    Warm Regards,

Leave a Reply