Screwing up the simple life

Screwing up the simple life

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Working around the homestead gives you a lot of time to think about the simple life. And in my deep thoughts ’round the farm, I’ve realized that modern homesteaders have created a bit of a problem. See, we’ve monetized the concept of simplicity.

You guys, we’re selling the simple life. We’re marketing it. We’re dressing it up, giving it a cute label with a nice font, and putting it out there for everyone to see. And buy.

We’ve given the simple life a website and a podcast and a few hundred Instagram hashtags. We’ve made it popular on Pinterest and YouTube and we’ve created reality television around it. 

We’ve turned the simple life into an infomercial where for five easy payments of 19.95, you too can learn what it takes to live more simply. We’ve got courses and ebooks and membership sites. People want to know what we do and how we live and we’ve got way more places and platforms to share it on than we actually have time to spend sharing.

Somewhere along the line money and fame and popularity and importance got involved, and we messed up the whole thing.

(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)

The simple life isn’t easy. And that’s why it works.

It goes without saying that the simple life isn’t easy. It’s hard work. In fact, I believe that’s actually one of the main reasons the simple life is simple. People are so busy with their hands, with the day to day effort involved in running a home or a farm, that they don’t have time or energy to involve themselves in the drama of modern life—or anything they don’t need to get involved in.

Baking bread is part of the simple life.

Modern homesteading puts a weird new spin on all of that. We want to keep ourselves busy with homesteading and simplicity and hard work— kind of like great-grandma did—and then we also have the internet, a huge platform to share what we know. A huge platform to learn from and showcase our life. A huge platform to get muddled up in, forget why we’re doing what we’re doing, and lose our way.

In all honesty, it’s weird to talk about this. In fact, I almost feel like a hypocrite because, hi, my name is Amy and I run a decently successful homestead blog. People come to me for advice and suggestions about homesteading and simplicity and frugality—and I love that they do! I’m happy to share. I’ve got a podcast. I’ve written books. I’m doin’ the things.

That’s the thing about the internet—it’s great for sharing knowledge. It’s great for learning homesteading skills you don’t yet have. Without it, I would have never been brave enough to learn to can spaghetti sauce. The internet is also great for connecting with people who are interested in the same simple life that you’re trying to attain. But I think there is a fine line between all of that…and missing the point. The root. The why for what we’re doing.

It happens. I’ve talked to many homestead bloggers who say that sometimes they are so busy writing or teaching or speaking that they don’t have time to *do* the things they are writing or teaching or speaking about.

Duck friends are a big part of the simple life at our farm.

Putting the simple life out there for people to see can be tricky

When you turn your passion into something you put out there—especially if you somehow turn it into your job—you have to be very careful about the line you walk. And while I do believe we all have the responsibility to teach others what we know—because that’s how these skills continue to exist—you have to be very careful where that takes you.

I mean, if you don’t take a picture of the pie you baked, did you even really bake it? If you don’t post online about the issues you had in the barn this morning, did they really even happen? For many of us, I think that’s the point we’ve arrived at. In the quest to document and share the life we live, we sometimes complicate a really simple thing.

Enjoying the simple life with a jar of homemade mead!

It’s one thing to allow people to live vicariously through your homesteading life, to dream along with you about a life they hope to one day live themselves.

It’s one thing to share pieces of your life because your life is so awesome, who wouldn’t want to see it?

It’s one thing to share advice and experiences with the hopes of helping to bring about a more self-sufficient, responsible, simple society.

But it is another thing all together to live the simple life for the sole purpose to share it with other people. Or, even worse, to make a buck. 

And should people who dispense all this advice and teach others to do things be expected to do it for free? No. Not at all. Writing a how-to blog post about butchering chickens or butchering pigs or making homemade noodles or tips for baking bread is no different than writing an article for a magazine. And back in the day, that was legit income.

But let me tell you, when money becomes the purpose, it changes stuff. And not for the good.

The simple life is, once again, not so simple. In this day and age of internet warriors, you can spend more time taking on people who are trying to take you down as a homesteader sharing the simple life online than you spend doing anything in your barn or garden. And it’s very easy to say ignore them, they don’t matter. And the truth is, they don’t. But the other truth is if you’re going to share about your simple life anywhere online, they are part of the package deal.

There are many complications to sharing your experience in the simple life today—the biggest of which is knowing where that fine line is between sharing your life and selling your life. And we all have to figure out where that line is, because it’s different for each of us. All I know is that if you’re trying to get the 300th picture of your chicken because the light is perfect but you completely miss the fact your kids are barefoot and giggling and chasing each other around with a garden hose, you need to go back and reassess where your line is.

Maybe the ultimate irony in the monetizing and selling and promoting of the simple life is that at the end of the day, the simple life can’t be bought. And you either understand that…or you don’t.

The simple life can't be bought.

Modern homesteaders have created a bit of a problem for the simple life: we've monetized the concept of simplicity. Let's open this can of worms, shall we?

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4 thoughts on “Screwing up the simple life”

  • I have been wrestling with this idea for so long – it was so nice of you to put it in to words for me :p :p.

  • Exactly!
    This is why I could never write the book about our experience completely offgrid in a 15sqft yurt/ktichen addition, that friends and family wanted me to write. I just can’t sell our adventure. I feel the uniqueness slip away into the ‘trend’ sphere. I tried keeping a blog…it took to much energy and time to keep updated. At the time I was too busy trying to survive.
    That is what the ‘simple’ life of our ancestors was all about….Survival. To make it to tomorrow.
    Thank you for all that you share Amy. 💛
    Back to the garden I go…food for the winter in progress!

  • Hi Amy. I don’t always get time to read your blog but I just had to read this latest one, you got me at the title. Ilive in Wales in the UK and I like to consider myself and my family as homesteaders. I am doing my best to grow our own, my husband builds everything we need outside, keeps our log pile full and we try and involve our two boys as much as we can. We aim to be more self sustaining than self sufficient I thnk. I LOVED it when you said about taking a photo or it just didn’t happen. The pressure of sharing your life on social media is huge and you have to show you’re doing it right, too! I am working on living our life and not sharing it too much, but boy is it hard. I am an Airbnb host, too, so I have to use social media to promote that side of our life, but I like to share our life with our guests when they are here in person, too. I also write a blog but find sometimes I’m too busy sharing on Twitter to write it, and I love to ramble on as you can tell! I have shared this on my Twitter feed as I have lots of friends through the ether who are homesteaders/smallholders.
    Thanks for a great post.

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