Choose your own adventure: Post-Covid Series Part 4

Dear reader

Welcome to Part 4 of a series of blog posts about the actions we are taking as a family to make positive change in the face of climate, social and cultural breakdown. Read about the series here.

On with the *why* and the *how* of choosing our own adventure…

Why?

Life is one great big adventure, and there are forks in the road everyday. We have choices to make everyday that lead our journey in one direction or another. There is no destination. There is only the adventure.

I’m keen to be conscious of the adventure, rather than bumbling along on autopilot. And know that sometimes the less travelled fork in the road looks a bit overgrown, but might be the right direction to go in at the time. The road to conformity and conventionality looks well trodden, safe and easy, but I’m beginning to suspect that road is leading us to a massive economic, social and environmental breakdown. Are we doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results?

What if we had more time? More time to do the things that really make our souls come alive? More time to think, learn, tinker, play and use our imaginations?

I think the fork in the road that leads away from conformity and conventionality might lead us there.

Most of us who live in an affluent and peaceful country, like me, have much more agency over our life’s adventure than we sometimes think, (and I acknowledge my privilege here, as I did in my introduction). It’s important to me that I recognise that there are many forces at play when I, or we as a family, make decisions big or small. But it’s ok to push back on those forces and take a different direction at the fork in the road, whether those forces are cultural pressure, ego, the desire to fit in, or the influence of consumerism and advertising.

We have agency over how much we work, how much we’re in debt, how stressed we are, what we spend our money on and what we spend our time doing.

I think it’s pretty easy to grumble about how busy and tired we are and not realise we have choices. But instead of questioning the root of our busy-ness and tiredness, it can be easy to revert to the ‘I’ll be happy when… I buy this juicer, have a bigger house, a better car, better patio furniture…’ rhetoric. But I don’t think taking that fork in the road is doing any service to our long term happiness or to our planet. It’s only in service to the economic-growth-at-any-expense construct.

I sometimes think that the size of our happiness is inversely proportional to the size of our house.

Gregory David Roberts

We live in a very plentiful time. Health care is better than it’s ever been, infant mortality is low, most of us aren’t affected by war (global pandemics notwithstanding!) and yet we are stressed and have our nose to the grindstone more than ever.

We should have an abundance of leisure time. We should be tinkering at the kitchen table, learning new skills, volunteering, planting trees and making time to heal our planet… and yet there’s always something new to buy, a far away holiday to save for, or a credit card to pay off. I also think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and each other to work more, earn more, get better jobs for our egos sake, or to quieten that little voice in our heads that says ‘you’ll never be good enough! Work harder!’

But, heartbreakingly, our planet can’t afford to support a culture that glorifies busy-ness and big egos. That has become crystal clear during the Covid-19 pandemic. The planet seemed to breathe an enormous sigh of relief when human activity slowed right down.

In my recent digging around in European history (looking for answers, and finding more questions) I was interested to learn that humans have historically made great change (for better or worse) when they lived in a period of stability, during times when people found themselves less hungry and less stressed. In our current time, most of us are not hungry and we shouldn’t be all that stressed, and we’re facing a time of great change. Is this our time to shine?

The eighteenth century in Europe was an example of this, and it changed the world dramatically. People who lived through this time benefitted from improved weather after the Little Ice Age that peaked in the 1600’s. The Little Ice Age has been linked to widespread crop failure and famine, which in turn stirred up social and political unrest, violence, wars and witch hunts (which was essentially a neat way to blame the bad weather on a minority group). Truely unstable and fearful times. But by the 1700’s the weather warmed up, the population was growing, people weren’t starving, there were fewer wars and the Black Death and other epidemics had been and gone. And as for the witches, by the early 1700s it was decided that witch hunts were irrational and socially unjust, fancy that? People were healthier and living longer, and weren’t living with their nose to the grind-stone just to survive.

Europeans in the 1700’s found time to learn and tinker, and explore their interests. Inventions started to appear in the 1700’s that made things like textiles, farming and manufacturing faster, easier and cheaper to achieve. And thus the Industrial Revolution was incrementally born on the workbenches and kitchen benches of everyday people who had a bit of time up their sleeves.

Now, it’s not lost on me that the Industrial Revolution has had a big roll to play in the current climate emergency, so it’s probably not the most fitting example to use here. But I find it’s fascinating to look at the big picture to see what external forces affect human activity over long time spans. In our time, if we look at the big picture, I can see the confluence of affluent and peaceful times colliding with a great need for humans to invest their time into creating solutions to the climate emergency. It seems simple when we look at the big picture.

How?

I think everyone’s adventure is wildly different. We all think and feel differently about what our work and our free time means to us. I love hearing stories about people who intentionally push against the tide of conventionality and conformity to make better choices for themselves, their families and the planet.

I love hearing about people are the architects of their own lifes. They chuck the conventional social pressures to have a career out the window. They work for short stints in less than glamorous jobs to fund long stints of free time to live frugally and have a great time doing things outside of the monetary economy. Like this woman.

I have one friend who was, in pre-covid times, heading down the road of extending her family house, but during lockdown, with the whole family living together in their small house, she realised that extra rooms seem a bit excessive now, and maybe they are more content with their home than they realised.

I have another friend who is looking at selling her car and plans to share with her parents who live around the corner. It feels like a security blanket having your own car parked in the driveway at all times, but she’s realised the reality is that she barely drives, and that sharing registration and maintenance costs is a smarter idea.

Since the pandemic has made it clear that radical change is needed. We’ve put ‘easy’ and ‘well trodden’ aside and made a few new changes too…

  • We’ve love getting a Tassie-only veggie box this winter. There are no sad strawberries, woe-begone watermelons or travel-weary tomatoes from interstate in the veg boxes. We’re avoiding big food kilometres and supporting local farms.
  • After getting into some new cooking habits during lockdown we’re, even more than ever, cooking from scratch. We’re saving money, eating better and buying less packaged food.
  • I recently sold my big 4WD and bought a hatchback that uses a third of the fuel. It seems a bit count-cultural when nearly every mum my age drives an SUV. And although our local servo chap called it a ‘downgrade’, we’re stoked with it… it’s definitely an upgrade for us.
  • Instead of saying yes to every shiny new opportunity or thing that is coming along since lockdown, in a rush to ‘get back to normal’… I’m guarding my time like it’s a precious gift, because it is.

We all have more agency over our lives that we think. Actively choosing our own adventure means we have the liberty to make choices, we have the freedom to pivot when circumstances change, and we have time up our sleeves to learn, tinker, make changes and take action we feel are right for us, our family and our environment.

You are allowed to make changes to the way you’re living. You’re allowed to look after yourself. You’re allowed to decide what is important to you. And you’re allowed to create a life with those things at the center.

It’s OK to go slowly. It’s OK to say no. It’s OK to be different. And it’s OK to let go of caring about the Joneses. Just don’t replace them with a new set. Instead, create a life full of things that matter to you, and watch as the world revels beauty and humanity and connection.

Brooke McAlary, Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World

Further learning

Read Retrosuburbia: The downshifters guide to a resilient future (by David Holmgren, published by Melliodora Publishing, 2018) is the bible for leading a regenerative home-based life that is good for our families, our communities and the earth.
Read The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A Guide to Spending Less While Enjoying Everything More (by Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grub, published by Melliodora Publishing, 2016) is a brilliant read for those wanting to side-step away from consumer culture and fill life with ALL THE GOOD THINGS!
Read Utopia for Realists, How We Can Build the Ideal World (by Rutger Bregman, published by Little, Brown and Company 2014). It’s a brilliant theoretical journey into what a world with universal basic income and some other big and sometimes controversial ideas would look like.
Watch Many people who live in a tiny house are motivated to be debt free and live a simpler life. There’s an abundance of inspiring tiny house videos on Youtube, and one of our favourite channels is Living Big in a Tiny House.

About this series


This is one part of a series of blog posts about ideas that since the outbreak of Covid-19 have become clear to me that we must put into action. We must take our hands out of our pockets, stop postulating and/or despairing about the state of things and start listening, and start doing. I’ve had enough of the ‘bigger is better’ rhetoric, which is fuelling the economic growth at any expense mindset. I think we need to slow down, simplify and aim for an ‘enough is enough’ world view, which can sustain healthy communities, cultures and environment. This series breaks down a whole list of actionable things that we are working on as a family. Read the introduction to this series and the list of links to each blog post in this series here.

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