Sunday, August 23, 2009

Downsizing and liking it

I've been thinking a lot about downsizing.  I was downsized at my job last year and I didn't like THAT at all, but it has actually become a blessing in a weird round about way.  I never considered myself much of a consumer; I shopped at thrift stores and thought I could squeeze a penny so tight I could put Lincoln IN the Memorial.  But I've learned a LOT in recent months about living lighter on this earth and how I could keep money in my wallet. 

About eight years ago, during a Field Day at Joel's Polyface farm and then again while being interviewed for a job as cow masseuse (I kid you not!!!) at Sunrise Farm, I looked at their chicken tractors on trailers and thought, wouldn't that be fun, to live in one of those, of course without the chicken poop?  When I was a kid I had a fascination with pop up and regular trailers, but they were cold, not so well designed, and they were noisy while travelling.  I had frequent daydreams about running away and living in the woods as I imagined Native Americans did, but without the close tribal society.  A lone Native.  To me it meant big adventure, not hardship and uncertainty.  I tried VERY hard to get my Gold Beach cousin to run away with me to the mountains near Ashland when we were 14.  If she'd been more interested, I wonder what the rest of my life would have turned out like?

I was homeless and near homeless at various times when I lived at Virginia and then I got a fairly comfortable job and bought a little farm.  I started scaling up.  I wanted pigs, I wanted chickens, I wanted cattle and sheep and goats and fruit trees and a garden.  But I've never been much good at picking men, so I had all these projects going but never actually handled any of them well because it was simply TOO MUCH WORK FOR ONE PERSON.  (duh!)  Joel talked about this briefly at Afton Field Farm's Field Day last weekend.  The most successful farms, he said, realized their inefficiencies, and gave something up.  After they streamlined they were able to produce and prosper.  Joel suggested to all of us that we form a farming community where we live, that if we raise chickens, we find a friend with produce, and another friend with milk... or whatever... so we can market together and pool resources. 

I was forced to scale back when I moved across country.  I sold or gave away a lot of my belongings, including things I'd hauled around with me for years.  I reduced my livestock to three goats, three ducks and a livestock guard dog.  I cried many tears over goats I'd never see again.  But once I got here, I started scaling up again.  I bought the fruit trees, multiple dozen chickens, a few more goats... and suddenly found I couldn't afford to feed them all.  There's nothing worse than feeling like a bad parent to so many critters... I did feed them - just look at my fat goats and you'll know they didn't suffer ONE BIT!  But it was a struggle, as were all the other bills.  And I didn't like the guilt. 

How did I get this way?  In a house I can't afford, alone and with more chores and bills than I can handle?  I have the plague of smarts - I have read so much and thought so much, I have huge ideals I can't possibly live up to.  I see so many sides of gray in a situation that sometimes I am stymied and unable to make decisions.  Sometimes I go with the flow rather than expose myself to conflict.  And then, just to complicate things, I also have a fierce need to be independent and to do everything all by myself.  When I moved out here, I should have gone camping then, to save money.  I didn't.  When it was clear I wasn't going to sell the Virginia house, I should have pulled out of the Oregon house and gone camping.  I didn't.  I should have put condoms on the drakes and roosters.  I didn't. 

Relatives are telling me to declare bankruptcy and move back to Mom's and go back to school.  I don't feel good about that.  I don't want desperation reflected on my credit report for ten years.  It costs money to declare bankruptcy, anyway.  $1300 plus.  I do recognize that my training in automotive is of little use to me in this economy and I could use at least skills updating if nothing else.  But I also know I've wanted to own something like the store I have now since I was 19 years old.  I don't want to quit just after opening it.  It only needs a very small cash infusion to grow as long as I can personally reduce my bills so I can keep going without a paycheck from the store. 

Also, I want a degree in Nutrition Science.  I don't want to go back to school for anything else.  I can't afford a bachelors degree while I can't even keep my utilities on, so I figure my best bet is to wait until  I either save money or find a scholarship for a four year degree that will let me take most of my classes online.  I can't see myself accepting the free tuition being offered to take classes in a field I'm not interested in.  I went to UTE1stop and I just couldn't put my heart into it.

Looking back, a lot of my money issues were caused by entering relationships, racking up expenses like houses and cars and kids (not that kids are expenses only) and then suddenly being alone again.  Every bad relationship I got into started with us feeling broke and moving in together to pool resources before we knew each other well.  I'm not necessarily against cohabitation, but only with someone who is your best friend as well as your lover... someone you could at least SEE yourself marrying, whether you do or not.  I married three guys (one at a time!) who stopped drinking just for me, and when they started drinking again, I couldn't extract myself.  I got all caught up in the should I's and shouldn't I's and stayed there, paralyzed, for years with someone I shouldn't have spent months with.  And then I'd live alone for a few months and start the cycle all over again.  This is how I am nearly 44 and single!  Because I never dated, I never shopped.  I was in a relationship or alone, one or the other.  And economics had WAAAAYYY too much to do with it.  I made myself a promise I'd take the proper time to get to know the next guy.  If my economic status is stable, it will help me keep that promise.  And besides, how many men would really be willing to share a house that was 6' x 10'?  He'd HAVE to love me.  One thing I know I don't want, which was actually the stimulus for finally breaking up with a man I dated for years, is to marry a man I'm not excited about, even if he promises to bail me out.  Again, I want to do it myself.  I will be my own bail out plan.

So now I'm thinking seriously, deliberately, trying to separate emotion without being untrue to myself.  What do I really need?  What do I really want?  What can I get rid of?  Where do I want to be next year, in five years, in ten?  When I first began to consider downsizing I wanted to keep nearly every animal I have and find a big piece of owner financed land.  Now I'm thinking if I only take my 47 chicken youngsters and my guard dog, I'll have a lot more possibilities open to me, including cheap rent on the back 40 of a farm owned by someone else.   If I find someone who owns property they want cleared, but they don't want to pay for it, I can take my chainsaw and my goats and probably live there for free for months.  But then I'll have to consider fencing and feeding.  They're not trained to electric fencing and they have horns.  Chickens, however, are easy to put in a flexible electric fence on a roll like they sell at  I need to get the chicken house and my  house built and then see what is out there.  If I take apart some structures I built when I moved in, I'll have about a sixth of the wood.  I have a couple ads posted for partial sheets of plywood, partial cans of paint, any bits and pieces others may have from their projects that they may be happy to have me haul off free. 

As far as material belongings go, I am blessedly unconcerned.  I need to have enough to stay physically clean and to look good for my jobs.  I'll take some of my art supplies.  The rest???

Over the last six months, I have put many signs up on my store window and on feed store bulletin boards to sell livestock, with little success.  Last night I put an ad on Craigs List for livestock and some household goods.  I've gotten a LOT of emails already. 

Over the last week I've been moving things I want to keep from the downstairs to the upstairs, which is one big room.  That simple action is making me downsize.  If I have too much junk in the upstairs room, I obviously won't be able to take it in my tiny house on wheels, so it gets sold, given away or tossed.  I've been hauling around notes I've taken for future writing projects.  Not a few weeks worth of notes - but boxes and boxes of notes from the last 11 years.  I think I'll burn them.  I've been carting around books I haven't read in 15 years. I've done the same with clothes. I finally got rid of all my size fours, realizing I'll never be a four again. I didn't even like how I looked when I was that thin, so why did I keep the clothes? I got rid of all the 12s I was keeping as a fat-again insurance policy. It's stupid, but I think a lot of women do it. I think if I don't have fat clothes, I'm a lot less likely to get fat again. I like my big bedroom, but truly, all I ever use in it is the bed! A loft will do.  I was opening closets and cabinets and looking at my stuff yesterday. How did I get so much stuff? I mean, I have FOUR teapots! Most of my stuff I either got free or bought at thrift stores and yard sales. But even a bargain costs money and even a freebee takes up space.

When I get the downstairs emptied I will have to decide what to do about the little dog.  I either have to crate train him while I am gone every day to keep him from peeing on stuff and scratching walls, or I have to find a new home for him.  He's being one of my hardest decisions because he's cute, funny and loving.  If I met a retired or handicapped person who spent a lot of time at home and needed a companion, he'd probably be a good dog for that person because he could get lots of potty breaks and lots of lap time. 

My mom and daughter want me to get rid of the Great Pyranees because they are afraid of him.  He has growled at my daughter to keep her out of the kitchen (like it was his and not hers!) more than once.  He also needs work.  But he has loved both of my ex boyfriends and is extremely faithful to me.  I think this dog would die for me.  I live alone so this loyalty means both companionship and protection.  He could also be feasibly retrained to do traditional farm guard duties. 

I'm playing with housing designs, and each design gets simpler and less expensive.  I won't go so far as to build the whole thing with pallets because I do have to haul it behind my truck, probably more than once.  But I am downsizing the interior... a LOT.  I want a composting toilet and probably will get one, eventually, but do I need one?  Not to start.  A portapotti will do.  I want my hot showers, but I hate my 100-200 electric bills.  Cabella's sells a propane water heater on a tripod that I can use on those days I must have hot water.  I like cooking, but my store will have a kitchen.  I don't need a full kitchen in the rolling home.  A propane burner and a solar oven for those times I must cook will be good enough.  Otherwise I can eat raw foods, either as whole fruits and vegetables or as items I have prepared at the store that do not need refrigeration or heating.  I'll bet I lose that last ten pounds because when I go prowling at midnight I'll eat an apple instead of making a big meal! 

Since the rains are coming, I intend to build entire panels on the floor in my office (which is huge and mostly empty) and then borrow someone to help me carry them out and lift them onto the trailer. 

Well, got to go back to work, so I'll have to do more of this thinking on computer later.  Thank you for reading through all this.  I'm hoping someone else in a similar boat starts following and we can cheer each other on!  I talked to a couple of other women who were unhappy in relationships and wanted to move out, which got me daydreaming about multiple little houses, like the caravans of covered wagons that came across the country to Oregon.  What if we rented land together and I supplied eggs and another supplied.... ?

Update 8/27:   I went on a blind date yesterday at 6am (coffee in a thermous shared on a blanket in a park) with a man who I was floored to find out has many of the same sustainability books I do and is a green builder.  He is getting a divorce and hadn't decided where he was going next.  I described the house on wheels idea and he became very excited.  We HAD to see each other again in the evening and we poured over internet pictures and scribbled plans on graph paper until 2am!  I think I have home #2 for the "covered wagon community" I was mentioning above.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larisa, I came here to look at info on OCFA, but what an amazing journey you have provided. You are a good writer! I'm sure there are others besides myself that share many of your quandaries, although it sounds like you are making headway while I am still standing and staring at the stacks! There may be some things we can shuffle around and see if they would be useful to you in your endeavors. Will try to come up with a list and you can choose, next time I am in the store!

August 23, 2009 at 11:48 PM  

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