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What You Need to be Free

February 1, 2016

When I was very young, about 5 or 6 years old, we lived on a farm in North Carolina which we owned, free and clear. We grew corn, had a big garden, raised pigs, ducks and chickens (our Rhode Island Red rooster was the bane of my young existence) and were building toward a small herd of cattle. Then, we sold it and moved. That scenario would repeat itself over and over for the rest of my life, until I set out to “seek my fortune” (I have finally found my version of fortune, but that’s a different topic). Sometimes we lived on farms and sometimes in small farming, ranching or fishing towns. My dad was always talking about independence and freedom, and was always looking at land. He really wanted to go back to being a farmer. My mom, I now understand, was focused on safety and security and wanted to live in town. Aside from whatever other dysfunction may have been in their marriage, I think that was the major disconnect between them that led to every flight, every move. One wanted to be free; the other wanted to be safe.

Like my dad, I come down squarely on the freedom side of the equation. That’s not to say, I don’t value safety and security. I do. I simply see them as things that are more readily obtained via freedom and self-reliance than any other way. That wasn’t the case for my mom. To her, safety and security were a function of having a secure job with a regular paycheck and living in a town with all of its attendant ease and comfort. Here’s an example.

In the late 1970s, we lived on a farm in the Appalachians in an area the locals called “upper middle-east Tennessee.” The farm came complete with barn, fields, a year-round creek (with water fall), lots of timber, deer and water from a spring fed well that ran to the house via gravity. The house, while not huge, was big enough, and because the basement was built into the side of the mountain, there was an effective root cellar there. The large garden, which we put between the house and the creek, produced an amazing amount of food. After a lot of talking and planning, my dad and I decided to drop part of a hill and partially dam the creek. Over time, this would have created a rather large pond or small lake that planned to stock with fish. The creek would have continued to flow. We were going to turn one or more generators with the water. At that point, we would have been completely off the grid. About the time we started making progress in that direction, we moved. As was inevitably the case, when we moved we moved to a place that was vastly different from where we left. Sometimes, my dad and I would make the move and then, once we were established and my dad had a nice secure job, my mom would join us.

The point of all that is not to denigrate my mom. She was a good mother who sacrificed a lot for her family. She was simply unable to see freedom and self-sufficiency as a way of providing security. This, I believe, is a pretty common albeit mistaken point of view.

Some people believe the world and US economies are headed for a major correction. Others feel we are in a recovery that is set to continue. Regardless, one thing that seems clear is that the economy has changed. As we have seen, even before the economy took its most recent downturn, the days of a person having a job with the same company for the entirety of his or her working life are gone. Some estimates are that at least partially because of this change, by the year 2020 as many as 50% of all working Americans will be free lancers. What does this mean? I submit it demonstrates the idea of security based on a secure job that provides a regular paycheck is no longer true. Those days are gone. Unfortunately, many people cling stubbornly to that belief, and manage to be surprised when events prove otherwise. So, assuming what I’ve said is true, how should people respond?

As some of my recent posts demonstrate, I’m a big believer in homesteading and the self-sufficiency it requires. So, should everyone become a homesteader? No. Some people simply aren’t interested in homesteading. Besides, if everyone moves to the country and becomes a homesteader, we’re going to have some problems when things like cell towers need maintenance or someone needs cardiac bypass surgery. Still, there is an aspect of homesteading, urban or rural, that has immediate application for those who elect to not be homesteaders.

Successful homesteading requires competence in a rather large skill set. For the person who elects to not homestead, doing as much as you can to ensure your financial security also requires competence in a large skill set. So, if you elect to not homestead, I suggest you make the regular and ongoing acquisition of new (and marketable) skills a permanent part of your life. If jobs for life are not the norm, a person needs to have as many skills as possible so that when a job ends, for whatever reason, there is a reasonable chance of gaining another. If you’re not going to grow/raise all or most of your food, it is irresponsible to not do everything you can to remain employable or marketable. In addition, I recommend divesting yourself as much as possible of the consumer mindset. There are two reasons for this. First, the less of your disposable income you spend, the more you can save or invest. Second, as you begin to realize you don’t need all the stuff you see advertised, once you begin to understand it’s not necessary to “keep up with the Joneses,” you begin to become freer. I might argue you won’t be as free as you would be if you decided to embrace homesteading, but you’ll certainly be freer than you are now – if only because if your current job does come to an unexpected end, you’ll have enough of a financial cushion to hopefully weather that storm. With the addition of more, and more marketable, skills you’ll be in a much better to position to either find another job or become successfully self-employed. Whether you are a homesteader or not, take advantage of every opportunity to gain more skills.

For those who are inclined to homestead, the situation is a little different, though the emphasis on gaining skills is at least as great (I’d argue it’s even greater as, at least initially, you’ll need not just homesteading skills but also the professional skills that help ensure an adequate income as you get your homestead up and running). While you can’t control things like the weather, just as you can’t control a downturn in an industry or the economy as a whole, you can gain skills to give you a better chance of dealing effectively with events that might otherwise be devastating. While I am far from the most skilled of homesteaders, I recently made a list of things I know how to do at least adequately if not masterfully. I compared my list to the “special skill sets” list you can find on the “How to Provide” blog by Rachel Falco. While I’ve copied the list here, there is much more to consider at the link.

“Can you farm, shoot a gun, weld a knife, protect yourself – your family, negotiate, trade, forage, hunt, cook, bake, dress a wound, perform CPR, garden, fish, sew, knit, butcher a chicken or a goat, hide, build, construct, save seeds, start a fire, raise livestock, navigate, assess people, treat illness with herbs, grind flour, render fat, build a fence, work with electricity, mechanic, tan a hide, sharpen knives or tools, okay – this list is seemingly endless.”

While it was gratifying to realize I have skill in almost all those, it’s also sobering to realize this list is far from all-inclusive. So, I have skills I must learn. The advantage, to me, is that learning skills of this sort (and utilizing them on a homestead) will allow me to be freer than only gaining employment type skills. As an aside, if you aren’t inclined toward homesteading, many of those homesteading type skills can make you more self-sufficient, even if you never grow a single tomato.

Regardless of your views of homesteading, if you want to be freer than you are now, if you want to be more self-sufficient, more self-reliant, you simply must learn more skills. Most of us could benefit from asking ourselves some serious questions. Here are some for you (my paraphrase of Jim Rohn). If the party/person you prefer wins the next presidential election, how much of a difference will that make in your life? If the unions change their philosophies, how much of a difference will that make for you? If tomorrow all your negative relatives suddenly become positive, how much of a difference will that make in your life? If the tax rate goes down/up, how much will things change for you? The answer to all those is “not much.” I could not control my parent’s tendency to move from what I thought were great places on a regular basis. Homesteaders can’t control the weather and employees can’t control an industry or the economy. What I can control is me. What you can control is you. You can learn the skills you need to be freer than you are right now.

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