I consider my family modern day homesteaders. We started with 160 acres of raw land, which actually was an old homestead and still had some of the original fruit trees. We built our own home from the trees on the land, started a garden, and installed an off-the-grid power system. We live as self-sufficiently as possible, and the only major difference between my family and the original homesteaders is we had to buy our land and the modern conveniences of our home.
Apparently, there is a small trend in the United States for families to give away their possessions, get back to the land, and choose a simpler life. Take for example the Harris family of Austin Texas, who aspire to be organic homesteaders in Vermont.
Now they are trying to get rid of it all, down to their fancy wedding bands. Chasing a utopian vision of a self-sustaining life on the land as partisans of a movement some call voluntary simplicity, they are donating virtually all their possessions to charity and hitting the road at the end of May.
Voluntary simplicity is a movement that began in the 1980s and encompasses bringing personal lifestyle practices into alignment with ecological values and cultural change that reject consumerist values and careerism. Mary E. Grigsby, author of Buying Time and Getting By: The Voluntary Simplicity Movement, explains:
If you think about some of the shifts we’re having economically — shifts in oil and energy — it may be the right time. The idea in the movement was “everything you own owns you.” You have to care for it, store it. It becomes an appendage, I think. If it enhances your life and helps you do the things you want to do, great. If you are burdened by these things and they become the center of what you have to do to live, is that really positive?
Living Simply with Children
Most parents want an improved life for their children over their own lives. The growing trend of parents to limit possessions and live simply reflects their own desire for their children’s lives not to be ruled by materialism and consumerism. According to Living Simply with Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting:
For most American families, “living simply with children” is the ultimate oxymoron. Between Mom and Dad working full-time jobs, the kids being shuttled from day care to lessons to sports-wolfing down fast food along the way-and the never-ending need to buy and spend to “fit in” to America’s consumer culture, family life can indeed be incredibly complex.
The simple life means less toys, less scheduled activities, more time together as a family, more self-reliance, etc. I am reminded of Helen and Scott Nearing, who abandoned city life during the Great Depression to live off the land.
The New York Times has dubbed the renewed interest in voluntary simplicity and homesteading “Chasing Utopia“; however, I feel it is more grounded than dreams of an idyllic life. A simple family life does not mean that an ideal family will be created, but it does ensure that parents are modeling and sharing with their children the values they deem important.