The majority of the people in our country and the world are urban dwellers. Even those living in the country, let alone in the smaller cities and towns, do not embrace a truly self-sustainable lifestyle. The ease and low cost of getting a gallon of milk at the store versus the time and space required to raise a milk cow or two, let alone keeping them healthy and productive and then finding a way to store the milk, is almost prohibitive. This is due to the economic principal of “division of labor”, where the specialist with hundreds if not thousands of heads of cattle can produce milk inexpensively and fairly reliably. However, it is also a habit and a way of life, and if you have always raised your own cows then the idea of buying milk from someone else’s cow let alone a factory-produced, plastic constrained, highly pasteurized and manipulated milk is a totally foreign concept. This article is directed toward those in the city, although anyone can gain insight.
All of us have bad and good habits and know the difficultly in changing them. Exercising regularly, giving up certain things (whether sweets; caffeinated, carbonated, or alcoholic beverages; tobacco; et cetera), addictions to television or social media, or even reading your bible on a daily basis can often be a challenge and one that is difficult during the best of times (which is what we are living in now) with every opportunity and resource for us to change them. Some habits are forced upon (the majority of) us, such as getting up and going to school or work every day or paying taxes. It is a way of life. Good habits tend to be more effort now and beneficial in the long run, while bad habits have the opposite impact.
As a SurvivalBlog reader, you have the same grid down concerns that I do. In the most extreme situations we will all have to radically alter our way of living. My family has moved from the suburbs of Chicago to a remote farm. This move, with full access to modern conveniences, has not been easy, but it is even harder to change our habits. From my perspective, there are two major types of preppers. There are those who are preparing for the instability of world change with a complete grid down golden horde scenario that will be utterly devastating, i.e. get through the hard hump and hopeful that things will return to normalcy at some point. The others are full lifestyle changes based on the belief that the current situation (growth, resource use, population density, et cetera) are all untenable and will force a long-term change on the human race, whether we have a massive convulsion or not. We are a bit of both and wanted to share so you understand our perspective. Still, coming from a traditional suburban lifestyle, it is hard to give up watching television or playing a video game in the evening after a long day at work. It is hard to spend time and money setting up a garden that, if lucky, we may break even in cost instead of buying the food outright. Yes, we fully understand the intangibles (organic, environmentally friendly, control of our food source, et cetera), but making this change is hard.
Habits are important as they allow you to operate without critical thought. Consider this for a moment and your average commute to work. After a while of working at any job, you know the traffic situation, how long it takes for you to waken, get ready, grab lunch, and drive to work. If you forgot gas or lunch, you know the time it takes to figure it in, and it barely impacts your day. If you sleep in, you know how much faster you need to shower and dress. These actions are all built on knowledge and habit. The time you save not having to plan a route with gas refilling stations and food options is huge, especially when it is extrapolated over a period of time. Obstacles become minor issues that allow your day to be uneventful. Some argue this is knowledge, not habit. Take the same situation above and a friend or spouse needs to drop something off at your place of employment. Can you remember all the street names or are you guiding them by landmarks and vague recollections? Some of us will know the details, but most of us “just know the way” and end up giving the friend the address of the place with faith in GPS or telling them to turn left at “First Bank” and right after the “Green Gas Station”.
Habits also make us more efficient. In the same scenario above, if you work long enough at the same place you will find the most cost effective and/or convenient places to stop for gas or groceries. If your commute is long enough, you will have your primary route, which will be the least amount of miles or time (whichever you value greater) but will also have one or two key alternatives, should there be a car accident or construction work. Instinctively, you know if there are traffic problems and whether you need to call your boss based on the anticipated time delay. You know if it snows that you need to be up an extra half hour early and the weeks around holidays you can leave ten minutes later. Again, these are habits developed over time and experience without a significant amount of thought or study.
Establishing a self-sustainable lifestyle requires hundreds of habits. Depending upon your choices, there are thousands of differing subjects that each need their own routines, especially those surrounding plants and animals. We can go through pages and books on habits and different routines. However, as an example, I am going to pick one subject that is common to all: heat. Even in the southern states, winter nights get cold, and where I live– north of Chicago– it is cold from November through March. I also like using firewood as an example because it requires a regular process of feeding wood to a furnace, which has a similar rhythm to having animals or managing a garden and is very simple concept to understand and most of us have the basic concept of firewood down well. It is not that great of a mystery.
At this time, we still utilize natural gas, so we are not solely dependent upon wood for heat. In addition, we have electricity, and on the very cold days we use supplemental electrical heat or bake in our electric oven. To say we are self-sufficient is a far cry, but we have built better habits.
We have instilled a habit of keeping the wood burner running all winter long, night and day. What have we learned from this habit? We’ve earned how to maximize the heat the wood burner can produce. Instinctively I can damper the air when the fire is hot and open the airflow when starting or wanting more heat. It is a rare day and more of a fond distant memory that I smoke out the house when starting a fire. We have learned how often to remove ash and clean the fireplace and how to utilize warm daylight hours to retrieve wood. It has become a regular system and a good daily habit.
The seasonal habits are also starting to form well, such as taking time to chop, split, and stack wood. Aged wood burns hotter, and while it requires more preparation in the front end it saves time when you want good hot fires. Moving and stacking wood is a constant process. If it sits and ages too long, it has the potential to rot or become infested. You want to set up a series of piles for burning by age so the oldest goes first. This is a seasonal habit that does not occur on your first year or second year. Sometimes it takes a cold winter where your wood supply gets really slim or even disappears before you learn the hard lesson. We are still figuring out exactly how much wood we need to burn each winter. After several years we know what we need to ensure we have a constant supply, but I have not developed the instinct or habit for the consumed amount. Part of that is due to the kind of wood that is readily on hand. We have a good idea of the wood that we have easily available for us to chop and use without concern of running low. We have not determined which wood burns best at what age. That comes from experience, and you can read for hours on wood burning, but like so many things it depends on specific circumstances: your type of stove, age, type of wood, et cetera. There are good combinations and poor combinations.
Another habit that I’m developing is learning to be available when wood is free (aside from labor). After storms or if somebody is clearing an area, a polite visit to the land owner can often provide access to trees, and there is usually somebody on Craigslist willing to give away a tree if you can cut it down. If already cut, this can be a huge time saver if the wood is right for you. But even if there is nothing quite as aggravating as turning a tree into firewood (cutting, splitting, storing, and stacking) and finding it does not burn well, it is also a learning experience. Maybe that wood can be utilized for outdoor campfires or landscaping projects. The more wood I can access off my property allows for greater resources on my property when needed, since trees take time to replace. While this may sound a bit selfish, I am offering fair trade in the current market and more often helping people get rid of unwanted waste.