Want out? Then Get Back to the Basics of Living.


Originally posted at Medium.com

Are you at a point where you want out? Out of the full-time job, out of the rat-race, out of the concrete jungle? Out of the repetitive social scene, out of the ecocidal status quo, out of the political division? Out of imposed schedule structures, out of heavy bills, out of the governmentality?

Ten years ago, I wanted out. Out of all of the above, and more. It had taken me a few years to get to the point of wanting a proper out. The Occupy Movement was the last straw: I participated as much as my full-time work schedule allowed me to, but it was clear that not even Occupy would go very far.

Almost by accident, I stumbled onto a one-day ‘Introduction to Permaculture’ course. The highlight for me was a compost toilet. Not everyone’s cuppa tea, for sure. But it offered me a glimpse of a system component that I could build and manage myself. And it did not flush fertility away to become an environmental pollutant.

I took my partner along to the next ‘Intro to Permaculture’ course. She gravitated towards the vegetable-growing side of things. We wanted more, which we found out comes in the form of a twelve-day ‘Permaculture Design Certificate’ course.

We were both full-time A-Levels lecturers, so twelve days off in a row to do a PDC was impossible. Luck was on our side, and a course was offered in the format of one weekend per month for six months. We enrolled, drove the 300 mile round trip each relevant weekend of each month, and played catch-up with our teaching duties every week that followed.

Half-way through the course, we resigned from our jobs. Permaculture had shown us enough basic ways of living for us to believe that we could set up something sweet and simple, and cheap and cheerful. We left the UK in the middle of 2012, our Great Year of Change.

We set up two tents on a friend’s piece of land in South Africa. It rained like the biblical flood. Summer brought veld fires and snakes. Our money ran low. My morale sank. But somehow we persevered. I built a very small cabin, and some contract work came our way.

We built and used a humanure toilet. We made compost, grew some vegetables, cooked on fire, washed from buckets, and enjoyed the ambiance of a small thermal mass heater. We made Nature our playground, watched the stars, swam in the rivers and the ocean, and enjoyed the simple life.

Things progressed on our rented piece of land, and a mini-homestead vibe emanated nicely there. A cheap acre of land went up for sale on the outskirts of town. We tightened our belts and bought the acre, and we spent a weekend or two every month for a few years cutting paths into the thick vegetation.

We rely on contract academic work for an income, but some promising business opportunities have emerged from living in the rustic, low-tech, and basic way that we do. I believe that it is this way of living — call it a ‘back to basics’ approach if you like — that has made our ‘semi-exit’ from the rat-race possible.

It is not a full exit, to be sure. I don’t think that a full exit is possible. It’s a decade into the process, and I think that some aspects of our ‘semi-out’ can provide others with something to aim for in their own semi-exit.

I have written in detail about these ‘back to basics’ aspects of our lifestyle in my book, 12 Rules for a Sustainable Life. It’s a terrible title, I know — forgive me! But I explain why I ran with that title in the Prologue to the book, which you can access in the preview at Amazon if you like:

12 Rules for a Sustainable Life

“Rules” is an off-putting word. Perhaps it is better to think of them as rules with a lower case “r”, or as tips, goals, suggestions, or guidelines that will help you along your journey in relative sustainability and relative autonomy. By autonomy I mean ‘self-directedness’ or ‘self-governance’.

You may not be able to exit the rat-race altogether, or even very much at all, but aiming for relative autonomy and relative sustainability may give you something tangible and realistic to aim for.

Here are the 12 Rules that I chose to write about. You can think of this list as summarising some aspects of ‘getting back to basics’:

  • Wash From Buckets
  • Cap Your Electricity Usage
  • Do Even More With Less
  • Cook on a Small Flame
  • Let Nature be Your Playground
  • Check Your Buying Behaviour
  • Respond to the Sun’s Dance
  • Embrace Muscle Power
  • Play with a Small Solar System
  • Catch and Store Water
  • Heat Your Home with a Thermal Mass Heater
  • Compost Your Humanure

Maybe none of the ‘Rules’ appeal to you, but they are examples of things that you can do to put the ball in your court to some extent. I write in depth about each Rule in the book, and I refer you to it in the hope that it can provide you with the conceptual material to make some practical changes in your own life. Maybe you’ll be encouraged to come up with your own list of personalised rules.

The ’12 Rules’ book provides something of a ‘how-to’ guide to achieve some autonomy (or ‘self-directedness’) in your own life, while also encouraging you to do so in a way that is more sustainable than the way of living in the status quo.

If you’d like a more narrative-based approach to how my partner and I exited the rat-race to the extent that we did, then you may be interested in my book, Permaculture Made Me Do It! It can be described as a memoir that traces some of what happened, and my thoughts thereon, during our ten years of rustic low-tech living. The book is also available at Amazon, where you can also access a preview.

Your ‘semi-out’ or ‘semi-exit’ will almost certainly occur in its own unique way. If you have read this far, you are probably very interested in making some kind of change in your own life. I hope to encourage you not to wait until you have a perfect plan figured out, because will likely never happen.

The two books I have mentioned here demonstrate how a set of guiding principles (e.g. permaculture principles) and a strong commitment to living differently will likely give you a lot of mileage in your own semi-out or semi-exit. It will likely be a hard slog, at least at first, but from my experience I can say that it is well worth it.