The following is in no way a political statement. It is simply the story of how I survived the last big crash and discovered a way of life that brought me happiness.
I think we all can agree that the world economy changed drastically in 2008. Banks, industries and even nations suffered, some never to recover. I know my business suffered and my entire life changed, for the better. Up until 2008, I was making a stupid amount of money for the work I do. I’m a commercial photographer and companies paid me well to capture images showing them in the best possible light. I had it made. My work gig was far from full-time, but my pay was fat. Then came the crash. Almost overnight the business went away. Through no wrong doing of my own I suddenly found myself out of work. My income dropped by something close to 70 percent.
I’d like to say that none of this worried me, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I was sick. I worried all the time. I couldn’t sleep. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get clients to hire me for photography. They didn’t have money either and photography has never been a necessity. Everyone tightened their belts and so did I. To add to this the price of utilities went up, and gasoline prices soon rose to close to $4 a gallon. Everything went up, everything except my income.
I remembered asking my dad once what it was like living through the Great Depression. He told me that it wasn’t so bad. Said he wore the same clothes year after year, repaired things when they broke, kept a big garden and raised rabbits and chickens to eat. He said that the rabbits alone kept his family in meat. He said it was actually kind of fun, that in many ways he missed those days when things were simpler. I decided to give the simpler life a try and I have never looked back.
One of the first things my wife and I did was to stop eating at restaurants. We were amazed at how much this alone saved us. Then we stopped going to the movies. You can get free DVDs at the library anyway. Eventually we pretty much stopped shopping or buying anything new. We grew up in the era of shopping malls. Shopping for us was a sport. Though it was hard to give up, doing so gave us a joy and comfort known by few. We felt free, relieved of the pressure of spending for the sake of spending. We decided to take it as far as we could. The next winter I shot the limit on deer in Ohio. I put three deer in the freezer. This provided a year’s worth of meat for the two of us, a few friends and family members. That spring we put in a big garden. Seeds were cheap and easy to find. Through the summer I cut firewood and soon heated our house entirely with wood.
We didn’t drive much. Left the hill as seldom as possible. Gas cost too much and there really wasn’t any place we needed to be. Using the Internet to guide us, we tapped maple trees on our farm and made maple syrup. We got a hive of bees and soon grew that into eight hives. One year, we took in almost 400 pounds of honey. People didn’t have money for photography, but they would buy local honey. The same with fresh produce. Mostly we ate the honey. We used it in anything that you would use sugar in. I even made five gallons of honey mead. When my log splitter broke I didn’t call a repair man. Instead, we did trouble shooting online and learned how to fix it ourselves. The same when the mower broke. Instead of hiring a plumber, I did my own plumbing, the same with just about everything else. I stopped paying someone to cut my grass and do yard work at the studio. I did these things myself and I loved it.
We repaired instead of replaced. Bought used instead of new. This alone taught us the value of older American made products. Nothing beats older American made tools, especially shovels. One year, I had to put new doors on our barn. We wanted attractive pulls on the doors, but new iron ones cost more than $70, so we used deer antlers that I found as sheds. They looked great, were very functional and best of all they were free. I learned to sharpen saw blades. When the clutch went out on my chainsaw I fixed it myself. We gathered rose hips, violets and clover blossoms to make tea. We dried, froze or canned everything we could think of. To this day, one of my favorite foods is canned venison. This all became a challenge for us, a game, a pastime.
For entertainment, we danced. Dancing kept us in shape and provided the social interaction that we both craved. It also gave us some life long friends. We turned this into a not-for-profit group called the Heritage Dance Association. We started trading photography for services with others in the same situation as us. We hosted elaborate parties on the farm complete with live bands and plenty of food via our garden, livestock and wild game. We learned to forage in the woods for delicacies like fiddle head ferns, oyster mushrooms and morels. If nothing else, we ate like royalty.
We still dance. We still repair rather than replace. We still raise our own food and we still love the simple life. My business is back now, better than ever. Money really isn’t a problem. Actually, it isn’t even a big deal. We now know that we will be fine with or without the nasty stuff. Of course we do not, in any way, live an extravagant life. We live in a small house on a small farm and we both drive 10-year-old vehicles. Once you live the simple life and learn to enjoy the simple things in life, commercial consumerism has no hold on you. I know that not everyone lives on a farm and not everyone was able to do as we did. I also know that most folks would never want to do what we did, but for us it was perfect. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
If you are interested in learning more about simple living here are a few good reads.
“The Good Life”: Helen and Scott Nearing
“Walden”: H D Thoreau
“Farm Show Magazine”: By subscription or limited access on Facebook