Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Defining Sustainable Living, Defining Myself

On my kitchen counter is a large pile of books covering a range of topics on homesteading, animal care, farming, and everything that seems to fit under the heading "sustainable living". On the desktop is the results of a survey asking people how they define sustainable living.

What I am finding is that sustainable living has become a buzzword that covers a huge variety of topics. "Simpler Life" is another set of buzzwords, so is "Homesteading", in all its various forms. In fact, the term "Urban Homesteading" seems a misnomer to me.

To me, the term homesteader brings to mind people in the post Civil War on up through the early 1900s who came west, took up virgin land and tilled it, or put cattle on it, built their own homes out of sod or rock or timber - or even all three. People who came out on a land grant and who were required to make their land useful and productive - and live on it -  for a certain period of years in order to get free and clear title to it.  This was not an easy task; many gave up and moved to town, some even moved back eastward, returning to their home towns.  The number of successful homesteaders was actually rather small.

On that side of it, I'm not a homesteader. This main part of the house has been here since 1955, the rest added on and expanded through the decades, the last expansion in 1995.  I do a lot of the things an average homesteader would have done, but then a town wife would have been doing the same things, A heritage farm out east would have the farmwife doing the same things, Even city dwellers often had the same practices.  It was not a new concept.

I don't feel I can call myself a homesteader for canning food like I was taught as a child, or for owning and raising chickens, or cutting my own firewood, or sewing, or crocheting, or cooking our meals. Paying attention to what foods you are eating  and their ingredients isn't being a homesteader. But then again, it is.

For a time, a number of the things I grew up learning how to do were dying out.  People didn't repair or make their own clothes - you threw it out and bought new.  Premade foods,  going to restaurants became the norm and not the exception.  Canning, sewing, knitting, crochet, even housekeeping - for many folks, they are things done by other people.  Stupid myths and fallacies have evolved around these older practices; the idea that home canned foods are bad for you. That eating eggs and chickens you raised yourself includes killer salmonella.  That clothes made at home were bad - this one traces back to the 1880s, as store bought clothing was coming into fashion.  I remember being told as a child that my dress was not "good enough" because my mom made it. My dress, that looked better, fit better, lasted longer than the store bought clothes thought so superior. That a home cooked meal is nasty tasting, and restaurant food is much better. (To me, that just means whomever was in charge of food in your house just wasn't a very good cook.) And now, there is a growing movement to go back to those ways. And to reinvent them.

Even the online definitions do not really touch on what homesteading is.  Wikipedia calls it subsistence living. Subsistence living? Barely enough to keep yourselves fed, clothed, housed?  Not how I see those who are calling themselves homesteaders on the various blogs and facebook pages I read and follow.  Many of them are growing their on food, raising livestock, canning foods, have an abundance and are running their own home businesses to supplement their incomes. Some of them have home businesses that are their main, and very successful, incomes.  So that's not a fitting definition.

Sustainable living seems slightly better defined. An attempt to reduce their use of goods, to reduce their impact on the planet and society, to live within their personal means, whatever they may be. When I ask fellow bloggers and facebookers, this seems the consensus.  But it was hard worked for definition, for many people it took quite a bit of thought.

I think my goal will be to make the buzz words have meaning. I'm going to do my best.

I'm out of steam.  Any suggestions for my rambling thoughts here are appreciated.

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