Using the household economy as an alternative strategy to create a diverse, and resilient life
Because complexity is the easiest way to reach your goals.
I’m fairly new to Medium. I was looking for a no-hassle platform to easily publish content. Medium looked like the right tool for the job, so I dove right in. My main goal is to increase my writing skills and creating a steady, daily writing routine.
Anyways, one of the standard rituals in checking out new social platforms is browsing through existing content to see what’s already there. What I noticed is that lots of Medium stories focus on some vague schemes to make money. Just follow these few easy steps they tell you, and you’re on your way to the promised land.
Instant gratification. 10 tips to make $1000K a month. 5 rules to be a perfect writer. 99 ways to become a top writer in a year. And so on.
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The formula is always the same. In a very linear fashion, they sum up a bullet point of steps that guarantee to get you to a predetermined outcome. You simply have to follow (read: consume) these steps and you will win the lottery. It’s not surprising that these posts are very popular.
There is only a small problem: life doesn’t work in this unidirectional, linear fashion. And I guess you too know that most of these articles are not sharing any unique or magical formula at all.
The truth is: if it was that easy, we all would be rich and make a living out of this calling called writing. Still, the possibility that we are going to be part of these lucky few is statistically speaking, nonexistent.
There is some good news though: it doesn’t matter. Even more so: it shouldn’t be our goal in the first place.
There’s this idea that we have to become the best in one specific chosen profession. To become this kind of expert one has to put all of his efforts into this one domain. This is the route of specialism. It’s the way our system works: from school to higher education to some office job. We are steered towards this one-dimensional, specialist way of life. In the course of this trajectory, we are shaped into perfect consumers.
While most people might be creators in one specific topic, for example writing, the main part of their lives is still outsourced. They need supermarkets with endless rayons of cereals, prefab meals, and sparkling lemonades to make them believe they have a choice. They need a variety of working specialists to fix their plumbing, paint their walls grey or change the worn-out tires of their cars. They need kitchen machines, gadgetry and imported design furniture made in China.
This is of course a result of our ever-increasing focus on advancement for the sake of advancement. We are addicted to technological innovations. We are being convinced daily that we need all that stuff to live a worthy life. We’re sold to the idea that we need to buy. And we buy.
As a byproduct of this blind chase, we’ve lost control of our own time and production power. Because: to consume one has to have money. To have money one has to work. So, we gave away our most important asset: our power to create. We handed it over to others to serve their economic ends. And: we outsourced our lives.
Fortunately, we can easily make the choice not to chase this absurd dream of infinite craving for growth and owning stuff. We can choose to live a simple life. We just have to say no. Or in the famous words of Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: ‘I would prefer not to’.
Because: we can do much more ourselves.
Let’s consider these words of Wendell Berry (in his essay ‘Feminism, the Body, and the Machine’):
“The modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversions elsewhere.”
What Berry describes here is the opposite of the household economy, which could be described as the smallest unit that makes up our society.
The household has sadly evolved over time from a unit of production towards a unit of sole consumption. Yet: the household economy could be the motor of a society driven by people that take all aspects of their lives into their own hands. This truly holistic view of creation then, can be the glue for a steady and mature community and a bottom-up approach to politics.
This ultimately very broad view of a life full of creation enables the creators to gain independence in the purest sense. It’s a mindset full of values, yet not directly linked to our contemporary obsession with moneymaking and career.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with moneymaking. One could perfectly use the idea of a household economy to diversify and free oneself from wage slavery.
The good thing is that most of us here at Medium are already working on that smallest of economies. Writing at home, for an online publication is a good way of shaping the building blocks of this self-sufficient lifestyle.
There is no magic formula
To come back to the beginning of my story: I hope you can see now that the answer to all your problems cannot be found in a magical bullet-list of actions to take (even though the author might make it very convincing to believe so.)
What we can do though, is to diversify our activities and thus our income. What we can do is work on multiple projects at once. (In my case: writing, film-making, a part-time job at a university, growing and conserving my own food, making wine, and renovating our house.) From the smallest to the largest project: all add to the result of more freedom and independence.
Even more: all those activities don’t rely on each other. Should one of these activities due to circumstance disappear, the other activities won’t be necessarily impacted, thus creating resilience as well.
In the end, it all comes down to this one paradox: A life full of diversity, full of complex connections and lots of diverse knowledge exponentially increases the possibility of a stable and simple life. That, dear reader, is what I like to call ‘complex simplicity’.
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