People often comment on the way we choose to live, and some of them apparently feel compelled to label us. I don't know, maybe the labels they use make them think they understand us. But I got to thinking today about all those labels and whether or not they really fit us ...
My family sometimes laughingly call me "Farmer Kate". That's okay with me. We do plant a new fruit or nut tree every year, we do try to put in a fairly good vegetable and herb garden every spring, and I do freeze, can, or dry everything I can save from the squirrels, raccoons, and assorted birds - who all seem to think we're growing the stuff just for them. I like knowing where my food came from and what's in it, and I believe in "eating locally" whenever possible - and it doesn't get any more local than my own back yard! I'm not quite ready for chickens or goats yet, though.
Big Guy and the girls call me the "Recycling Police". True, most of the time. I confess I have been known to pluck an empty toilet roll or shampoo bottle back out of the wastebasket and shake it at the offender while yelling "Blue box, dammit!" I will also make Big Guy put something back when we're shopping if I think it's over-packaged, or if the packaging is not completely recyclable. I make sure everyone's lunches are in reusuable containers, in insulated cloth bags, and include our own non-disposable cutlery and stainless steel water bottles or thermoses. I even bring home my banana peels (for the compost) and apple cores (for the guinea pigs). I'm proud of the fact that between our buying habits, the compost, the recycling bin (our city recycling program is very good), the plastic-bag-recycling bin at the local Safeway, and the wood stoves, we produce less trash for the landfill than anyone else we know.
We've been called cheap, miserly, penny-pinchers, and tightwads. Possibly true - but words that all have negative connotations. I prefer to be known as frugal, thrifty, or economical. Our financial resources are our own business, as are our financial decisions and practices. Those decisions, those practices, are what got us through a very difficult year; I was unemployed from September 1st 2009 to October 4th 2010, and Big Guy from December 15th 2009 through to two weeks ago. And in all that time we did not go hungry, we paid all the bills on time, we paid the mortgage and property taxes on time, we didn't go without anything we needed, we replaced the entire roof, and we continued paying down our line of credit.
We've been called "survivalists". Not true. Yes, we have guns - because he hunts - not for sport, but to fill the freezer with meat that's cleaner (we butcher and wrap it ourselves), leaner, additive-free, and healthier. What we don't have, and never will, is any kind of hand gun. Yes, we have kerosene lamps - most are antiques collected over the decades, all are kept clean and filled, and do they ever come in handy during power outages! Yes, we heat the main floor and workshop with wood stoves - why not, when the fuel is free? And we stay warm during winter power outages, and can also cook on them if necessary. Yes, I have a treadle sewing machine that I keep in good working order. For years it was the only sewing machine I had, and I clothed two small daughters and innumerable dolls with it.
We've been called "odd" because there are some things we refuse to have in the house, and some things we have but very rarely use. We will never have a dishwasher, electric can opener, electric pasta maker, electric frypan or griddle, air conditioning, carpet shampooer, or plug-in air fresheners. The juicer, rice cooker, electric kettle, electric waffle iron, and electric carving knife are J's and will go with her when she moves out (she's a practical little cookie and has been gradually collecting everything she'll want in her own place). And I'll probably give her the vacuum cleaner since our floors here are all hardwood.
Don't get me wrong (as some have done) - I'm not anti-appliance. I love my fancy sewing machine and my serger, I really wouldn't want to go back to living without the computer or the washing machine or the coffeemaker, and I seriously crave a tabletop steam presser for my sewing room. I do my floors with a steam mop (yes, bought on sale with a discount coupon!) and I have a toaster oven just for baking my polymer clay projects. What I am against is people becoming so dependent on powered machinery to do things that they forget there was ever any other way. It saddens me to realize that I know people who literally don't know how to sweep a floor, wash a sink full of dishes, darn a sock, or use a hand-crank can opener or eggbeater.
We know we'll probably never be one hundred percent self-sufficient. But we're going to get as close as we can - not because we're survivalists, but because we're survivors. We've both been poor, we've both been hungry, we've both been homeless. And we both believe that the more we can do for ourselves, the less dependent we are on the good will or expensive skills of others. We know that the less money we have to shell out to the power company or mechanic or plumber or dry cleaner, the more we can keep in our pockets or use for other things. Things that are more important to use than the momentary convenience of, say, an electric can opener.