Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How to Live, Simply!



I recently read, in a blog, of a writer who says he needs $5,000 a month to live. I was astonished. My mouth literally hung open.

Yes I know, many people make a lot of money, and many people spend a lot of money that they make, and many people work long hours to make the money they spend. But I never had thought of someone "needing" $5,000 a month to live.

Here's my perspective: I live in Santa Cruz, California about a mile from the beach at the north end of Monterey Bay. The Chamber of Commerce types call this a "destination community," meaning,  I suppose, everyone wants to come here. And they do, every day, in long lines of cars coming across the mountains from San Jose and the Bay Area. Yes, it's beautiful, and sunny (except for three months in the winter), and warm, and there's beaches and surfing and the Boardwalk, and all the accoutrements of a modern, upstanding, resortical… destination.

But not all of them want to live here, year round, because it's a small community with little industry, and not many high paying jobs. So they buy second houses here, rent them out to other visitors for exorbitantly high daily and weekly rents and have a place to stay for a week or two when they're on vacation. Consequently, the price of housing here is astonishingly high. I mean, knock you in the eyeballs, blow out your pockets outrageous. You think that mansion out at the edge of town is expensive, try to buy a two-bedroom fixer-upper on a postage stamp lot in Santa Cruz. We're talking half a million dollars here, and that's US not Canadian, eh?

Now to let out my secret. Don't tell anyone, OK?

My wife and I live here on less than $1000 a month. SHHHHH! Not so loud!

How do we do it? We live simply.

This has nothing to do with Voluntary Simplicity ™, monk-like asceticism, vows of poverty or counter-culture Luddite extremism. 

We live a normal life in our 800 square foot mobile home on a 60 by 40 foot lot in a normal mobile home park. We grow vegetables in containers around the outside of our home. We have fruit trees, berry bushes and ornamentals in the soil at the margins of the lot. We have rotating compost piles to return food leftovers to the soil. But we don't grow all of our food all year round.

We have one car, a 1972 VW Bug, my wife bought used in 1973. We drive it to the store on the weekend for groceries and wine, less than 1,000 miles a year (yes, that's right, year, not month.). We walk everywhere else. We both work part-time, my wife just a half-mile from home. I work at home now, but when I was employed, my job was a short mile from home. We walk or bicycle anywhere we need to go around town, and rent a car or take public transportation for once or twice a year longer trips.

But that's just living, doing the things that everyone else does. The main difference in the way we live, and I hesitate to let this particular cat out of the bag, is that we, uh, well, we just don't buy things. I know, I know, sounds unrealistic, Utopian, impossible, but it's largely true.

OK, we do buy a new toothbrush every year or so, and we do buy new underwear occasionally. But most everything else we consume, if that's the word, we get for free or for next to nothing at thrifts stores.

Also, we don't have television, so no cable bill. We do have an old analog TeeVee and a DVD/VCR that we use to watch movies from the Public Library.  (The TV was free, and OK, we bought the DVD/VCR new a couple of years ago when our old (free) VCR conked out). We each have a laptop computer, for work and environmental/social activism and we have a DSL account with our local ISP.

We use 35-45 kwh of electricity per month, and 5-6 therms of gas. Our mobile home is situated east-west, so we get solar gain in the mornings through most of the day. We supplement this passive solar gain with a small wood stove, we gather firewood on our daily walks among nearby eucalyptus groves, and we add the ashes from the fire to the garden beds and compost piles.

We don't have cell phones, iPods, iPads, Androids, Blackberries or other electronic devices to separate us from the world. We can't imagine what anyone has to say that's so important that they have to check their cell phone eleventy times an hour so they don't miss out.

Since we don't watch TeeVee, we're not exposed to the bombardment of ads telling us every little thing we simply must have to live a full and complete modern life, so, we just don't know what we're missing.

And we're happy with that.

OK, I'm not trying to say that we're good and everyone else is bad. It's just astonishing that in my lifetime (I was born when Harry S. Truman was President… of the United States) life has gone from adequate and sufficient to "needing" $5,000 a month to live!

We've found that when we live, simply, we have more time to engage with our neighbors, take part in our community and participate in the complex web of life that surrounds us. We take joy in each sunny morning, and each evening sunset. We delight in the brilliant stars at night, the positions of the planets, the phases of the moon. We welcome the various colorful species of birds that pause by our bird feeders on their migrations, and those who decide to stay. We wake up laughing every morning and we go to bed laughing every night.

Some people think we're missing out, but we know we're just living, simply.