Archive for April 2011
I’ve never been entirely happy with a few things about this blog, and so in the interest of starting fresh (which I seem to be very inclined towards this year), I’ve started a whole new one. It’s called If Not Here and can be found, well, here. I’ll leave this one up for awhile (as well as it’s companion which is a duplicate of the new one before I managed to get a new gmail address / wordpress username that were the same), but I’ll be blogging over there now, although I anticipate I’ll be using some of the material from here in the new space.
If anyone else is as interested in the series as I am, Homestead Revival is giving away a set of Ashley English’s books on Homemade Living. They look great and I’ve been wanting them for awhile, so I’d suggest checking this out.
As I go through the machinations of budgeting – writing the budget, tracking what I spend daily, reporting it weekly here – it strikes me that I spend a lot more time on the budget itself than on why I keep a budget. This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself – I do the budget anyway, because it’s habit, and I know in the back of my mind that it’s hugely important – but sometimes it’s good to remember that it’s for a purpose and it fits into a bigger plan.
Really, it’s pretty simple, though.
First, I keep a budget for the here-and-now, so that I have an emergency fund if anything unexpected happens. By keeping a budget I can live enough below my means to save money. Saving money means there’s some flexibility if anything happens. Also, when I’m used to living below my means, if something happens – like, say, a pay cut – we’re already used to living this way, so while it may be an adjustment, it’s not as much of a hardship as it could be.
The bigger thing, though, is that I have a plan – or at least some hopes – about what I can do with a stash of cash and the ability to lie frugally. I want some land. It doesn’t have to be a lot of land. It could be in the city or the country. I’m not really all that picky. But I want some land on which I can have a home, grow some food, raise some animals, and generally live life a little more on my terms.
This won’t happen immediately, I know. There are too many things up in the air right now, and too much to get sorted out first. But by living on a budget now – thinking and writing and watching and tracking – I can better prepare for this much hoped for dream, even if it is a good ways in the future right now. I’d do this anyway – living below my means is important enough anyway – but having a dream in place makes it even easier, and gives the work a real purpose.
Friday – nothing
Saturday – rubbermaid tub (bought used for starting a worm composter) – $2.50; 4 books for $9 (The Almanac of Rural Living – 3; Rodale’s Garden Problem Solutions – 3; The Foxfire Book – 2; Last of the Curlews – 1)
Sunday – nothing
Monday – air mattress – $41 (the old one broke, and this is a necessity for nights when I can’t sleep and need to be in the living room)
Tuesday – nothing
Wednesday – packing tape – $4 (needed to pack up box to return old computer to manufacturer for a replacement)
Thursday – 4 books for $11 (The Lacuna – 4, How the Farm Pays – 3; The Trade – 1; a Terry Pratchett for The Boy – 2)
So, this was more or less a week of somewhat unexpected but necessary expenses. More in the sense that the mattress, as noted, is necessary to my sleep and sanity sometimes, so $41 was well worth it, I think (I got a reasonable quality one this time that I hope will last longer and not lose quite as much air and require so much maintenance). My computer’s being replaced under warranty, but has to be packaged up in a particular way to ship back, and so I needed to get a roll of packing tape.
The books? Oops is all I really have here. I love books, but I very much need to be better about what I buy. I’m not too bothered by more books on gardening, farming, and sustainable living – they will get used, and I appreciate having them on hand. The almanac is especially fantastic, based on my intial readings of it, and How the Farm Pays looks great too, especially since it’s a reprint of an 1884 manual and uses older techniques. The other fiction books, though, are not really so necessary in the strictest of senses. Kingsolver I love and would have bought new, but held off on until it showed up used (which took somewhere close to a year, as I recall). The Road is dark, but post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction, which I find helps get me in gear. The Last of the Curlews…well, that just feeds into my love of reading naturalist fiction, The Trade looked interesting from a Canadian history and wilderness perspective, and I pick up the odd book every now and again for The Boy to read (although I like Pratchett just as much as he does, I think).
The grand total? $67.50.
I’m not in love with the number, but $41 of that was a new mattress, so I suppose it’s not really all that bad. And, out of the books, I spent only $8 on non-reference materials (and half of that was on a book that I’ve been waiting quite some time for). I’m also not sure I’m thrilled with the amount of things – it looks like a lot of stuff when it’s all typed out, especially for one week. A rubbermaid tub, packing tape, a mattress, and 8 books in just one week is not really that sustainable in this space. Really, I think that I could be better about spending money, but also about bringing more stuff home, so that’s something to look out for for next week, I think – being mindful of money and of space.
By day, I research and teach about digital thing – bits and bytes and their effects on how we live our lives and interact with each other.
By night, I read blogs on urban homesteading, avidly research about sheep breeds, make my own pickles, and grow basil in my apartment window.
It feels like there’s a divide here, a significant split, possibly even a rift, between the two. I’m trying to reconcile these things, trying to find tenuous links and possible projects and things that will let me stand not with my feet in two different worlds, but in one slightly messy combined one. I have virtually no idea how, though, although it’s something I find myself thinking about a lot more these days, especially after another session flipping through the hatchery catalogue that sits on the coffee table.
I certainly think there’s room in this digital age to have both. The Greenhorns blog recently posted about a course on using smartphones on farms. The Internet has provided the space to question trademarks, raise questions about organics, and connect with similar minded folks. I am endlessly impressed with the blogs and websites that I find that make hands-on, highly material work that is grounded in..well, the ground accessible to anyone, anywhere with Internet access. I use digital resources to work and plan and figure things out for myself, to connect with other people, to make a record of what I’m doing.
But in my own life, I still feel like there’s a divide. I suppose part of it is that I’m highly focused on finishing my dissertation, the one big project that needs to be completed and is about as far removed from any kind of material existence as can be imagined. My hope, though, is that when this is done, when the light at the end of the tunnel has proven itself to actually be the light at the end of the tunnel and not a train that’s barreling down on me, that I can start to work on combining some of these things that are near and dear to me into my research and my life, and building better, stronger links between this academic life that I lead and these other things that I very much want for myself now, and in the future.
…an afternoon on the couch, the windows open for the first time since fall, with a book and some tea and plans for spring cleaning in just a little bit.
Bliss, I tell you.
A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone. – Henry David Thoreau
While I am always grateful for what I have, more and more these days I find myself being grateful for some of the things that I don’t have. I know for some of the people I know that this is odd. To be grateful for what you have isn’t all that exceptional, but to be grateful for the things you don’t have – other than, say, major health issues or a heavy mortgage – isn’t all that common in my experience.
I am grateful for not having a car, a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, or a cell phone. I’m grateful that I don’t have the financial burden of paying for or maintaining them. Although my hope is that this will change someday, I am grateful for not having a mortgage. I’m also grateful that I have ways to get by without them. That I can walk, or bike, or take the bus. That I can wash clothes in the tub, or a sink, or a bucket. That I actually rather like sudsy water and the act of making dirty dishes clean. That I have a landline, a laptop, and easy wireless access. That I have an apartment now and that someday, with any luck, I will have enough saved to get that mortgage.
I am grateful without these things, certainly – I have enough in my life, certainly, and so much that is better than a few appliances and techno-gadgetry. I’m grateful for family, for friends, for food, and for shelter (and, admittedly, I’m especially grateful this afternoon for books and a guitar). I don’t need more than what I have, and not having these things does not diminish my life in any way, or detract from my gratitude for the things that I do have.
But I am also grateful that I do not have them, which seems to me a bit of a separate thing. I’m grateful that I’ve learned to be without them, and that being without them is simply normal, even pleasurable sometimes, and not deprivation. I’m grateful that I’ve learned that there alternatives to what so many people seem to accept as a given, if not some inalienable right granted by the gods of credit and debt.
There are moments when I whinge and moan, as most people do, I think. Moments when the dishes and laundry are piled too high, the grocery stores seems thousands of miles away, and it would be easier to call home on a phone in my pocket rather than one across campus. But these moments are the exceptions, and are far from the rule.
There’s more that I would like to cut out, I think. More that I would like to be grateful about not having. I hope to make some of these changes soon. But for now, I’m grateful – grateful for what I have just as much as for what I don’t. It’s a good feeling this gratitude, especially when it works more than one way.
In an effort to keep costs down, I’m continuing to track my spending and now I’m reporting it here. Basically, I’m trying to keep my variable expenses down as much as I can right now to save for next year, when I may not be earning much. Rent, utilities, and my one recurring research-related subscription will get added in at the end of the month for the grand total. I’ll have to see if I can keep track of groceries, since The Boy usually pays for those.
In the first week of my how low can you go challenge, I think I did pretty well.
Friday – nothing
Saturday – nothing
Sunday – nothing
Monday – 6 books for $15 (The Road – 2; The Fiery Cross – 2; The Rodale Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening – 3; A Minnesota Doctor’s Home Remedies for Common and Uncommon Ailments – 2; Blue Covenant – 3; World Hunger: Twelve Myths – 3).
Tuesday – toilet paper for $12.
Wednesday – nothing
Thursday – nothing
Total = $27
Not bad, I suppose. In all honesty, as I’ve said before I don’t need more books. I consider this a birthday gift to myself, though, and I appreciate their entertainment value (in the case of the novels) and having them around for reference (home remedies and organic gardening). Happily, the ones on water and hunger will be reimbursed as part of a research project that I’m working on. The toilet paper was found cheaper at a local store than where I usually get it, and will last us awhile.
Next week, I’m going to be more vigilant about staying away from the bookstore (and I won’t have a birthday as my excuse). I need to get a birthday gift for my mom, and pay for a warranty on my computer (expansive, and totally worth it, in my experience), but other than that, I’m still aiming for reducing costs. I also have a pressing desire to do some spring cleaning, so I imagine that will keep me busy (and hyper-aware of how much stuff I have), as will all the grading I have to do.
With the state of the world, and I suppose also the state of my life (really, really not so very bad, but next year’s work situation shook me a bit), I’m feeling a little like shrinking away. It’s not a great feeling, probably because it’s a survival mechanism, and I’d like to get away from the shrinky feeling now and out into the world again.
But, sometimes if you’re not open, I think life can pry you open. I’m not so sure I’m up for prying right now, though, I think that giving in and opening up, rather than trying to get smaller and and further away and more closed off is the more productive way to go (and quite possible the most interesting and useful as well. So instead of shrinking, I’m trying to be open. It’s not always easy – sometimes it’s downright hard – but I think it will be worthwhile in the end, especially after this odd initial feeling passes on through.
Open means a few different things here, some of which are easier than others.
Open to opportunities other than those that I initially expected – smaller contracts, other cities, new countries.
Open to new ways of living – more frugality, less consumption.
Open to challenges – finding the best ways to manage in somewhat uncertain times.
Open to gratitude – looking for the positives anywhere I can.
Open to being open – I’m rather fond of control, and being open can be…well, a bit of a stretch.
No telling where I’ll end up on the other side, I suppose, but I’m looking forward to trying this openness out a bit more and seeing where I wind up and whether anything changes.
I am my own library.
I’ve always loved reading and having books around. When I was 10 or so I had one bookshelf, crammed with books, and piles everywhere else for the ones that just wouldn’t fit.
Things aren’t really that different now, although the focus of the books has shifted.
When I started my Masters degree, I realised how hard it was to get some of the books that I needed from the library, if they even had them at all. I also realised that 3 weeks was simply not enough time for some of them. So I started buying books. Not a lot, but when I needed something, especially for my research, I tended to get it so I could have my own copy, always available, that I could do what I wanted with. This carried through to my doctorate, and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive some grant money that has allowed me to buy most of the books that I use for research, many of which are generally good, useful texts that will be handy for a wide variety of academic work in the future (Veblen, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Baudrillard, Bourdieu, de Certeau, and Simmel, I’m looking at you).
Once I became aware of issues around food security, sustainability, and peak oil, I began to see the value in using this approach of making sure I had books on hand that would help me live the life I was increasingly wanting to lead. And so, with another bookshelf on hand, I started building up a greater selection of books on cooking, gardening, knitting, sewing, preparedness, preserving, food issues, compost, household maintenance, and most recently, raising animals.
Coupled with the fiction that I also kept around, this makes for a lot of books. Actually, for awhile I considered getting rid of some of the fiction or academic books to make a bit more room (the fiction especially was considered for the shopping block), but then I read one of Sharon’s posts that included a section about buying books and feeling that she should be the local library, and I stopped thinking that way.
While fiction may not be useful in the practical sense, it gives me some very inexpensive, reusable, and lendable entertainment. It’s an escape, a way to get away from the world for a while. Sometimes its inspirational. Sometimes its relaxing. But I appreciate having books around that I want to read, and so when I see something at the used bookstore for a few dollars that I want to have around long term, it often comes home with me. At the most recent 50 percent off sale, I came home with John Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, Dostoyevsky, Douglas Adams, John Irving, and Annie Dillard. I’m still not looking forward to moving them, and I do trim the collection here and there but, by and large, the books stay.
The building of my library has been facilitated in a few ways. My long-standing love of thrift stores has certainly helped, and I’d say the vast majority of my books have cost no more than a few dollars each. Back in my undergrad days there was a thrift store where almost every book was a quarter or less – total bliss. The annual library book sale here helps as well. Also, everyone I know knows of my love of books, and birthday and Christmas gifts are frequently gift certificates. I also do a few reward-type programs that don’t cost me anything, but that add up to a bit of book money here and there. Occasionally there’s something that I want or think is useful enough to buy new, but this is very much a rarity.
Missing from this post: photos of my book-covered coffee table, bedside, nightstand, desk, and dining room table.