My man and I are currently undertaking the biggest and most creatively complex project of my life thus far: we're conceptualizing and realizing an off-grid, self-reliant homestead, built primarily from repurposed materials. The reactions we get when we explain this to people are all over the map. We hear everything from how crazy we are to how cool we are; we get grouped in with the masses of 30-somethings gravitating toward the tiny house movement; we get called hippies; we get asked if we've joined a cult. But I've yet to have someone inherently understand our motivations and goals without having to justify, dissect, and defend our plan and our actions (excepting, of course, our like-minded nearest and dearest). Over the weekend, as we mixed and poured a concrete footer, I had the proverbial lightbulb moment: this cultural inability to understand our motivations IS the motivation driving this epic project for me. Now how on earth do I explain that one? The fact that no one is understanding this is precisely why I'm into it.
I love the tiny-house movement, but that's not what we're doing. I love urban gardening. I love seeing people reduce, reuse, and recycle. I love that we have the option of purchasing energy-efficient light bulbs and low-flow shower heads. I love seeing locally sourced foods noted on fine dining menus. I love seeing electric car charging stations in retail parking lots. I love it, all of it. But we're going for something bigger. We're after something that encompasses the ideals that drive all of these movements, and then some. And this is where I believe the disconnect lies.
Culturally, we're moving in the right direction – let's try to stop devastating our environment and let's try to start developing a consciousness about what we require to live a comfortable life. But Austin and I are taking it a step further. Or perhaps a giant leap further. This isn't just about reducing our carbon footprint and growing our own spinach. This is about trying to understand the impact of our lifestyle, and what it truly takes to live the safe, comfortable lives we culturally take for granted.
Sure, I can plant a vertical garden in the tiny backyard of the apartment I rent in Boulder. I can supplement my Whole Foods grocery list with the variety of seeds and beans I'm sprouting in my kitchen. I can clean with vinegar instead of the harsh chemicals that have become standard. I can separate my recyclables and make my weird art out of trash. But I'm still living in a building that shelters me, heats me, cools me, hydrates me and cleans me without any concept of what it takes to keep me so effing comfortable. I just showed up one day, signed a lease, and had this all handed to me. And I don't even have to worry about maintenance! What the shit am I doing?! Something's not right. Why am I so concerned with social responsibility when I'm not even responsible for my own home?
I finally found the words to verbalize what's been my driving force behind this project as we spent the weekend painstakingly pouring a 12x12' concrete footer by hand, working from dawn to dark for three days straight, only stopping to check our leveling and reapply sunscreen. The more we worked, the clearer it became why no one does this themselves. It just plain sucks. But it also became increasingly more apparent that this is precisely what I want to change in my own life. If you're reading this, chances are you are sitting comfortably in a building that rests on a foundation. You are protected from the elements, shielded from the noise of the hustle and bustle all around you, you're safe and comfortable, and the thought "oh my god, is it possible that this building might collapse?!" is not circulating around your brain constantly. Because you've (most likely) spent all day every day for your entire life moving between structurally sound buildings, never having to question how this has all been made possible for you. But OH MY GOD the work that has been put in for your comfort and convenience!! How do we not acknowledge this?!
Perhaps it all boils down to gratitude. I'm not saying we're an ungrateful breed (I mean, yes I am, but I typically aim for altruism), but I think we've just culturally overlooked some really important stuff while we focus very good energy onto the tippy-top of the iceberg. Our intentions are great, but we're missing a major piece of the puzzle. We can spend all the time in the world making sure the eggs in our omelets came from happy chickens, but why does our awareness stop there? We take the eggs home and turn on an automatic gas stove in our apartment that's automatically pumped full of AC, while we cook on dishes that we're going to toss in the dishwasher with a built-in garbage disposal, all without giving it a second thought. Why aren't we concerned with what it takes to make all of THAT happen? The happy chickens are small beans, people.
So this is where we're starting: literally working our way up from the ground. I don't want to live in a home that some faceless, nameless strangers and their machines made perfect for me. I don't want my home to rest on a foundation that was mechanically dug with a trench digger and filled with a cement pourer like it ain't no thang. In the same way that our culture is suddenly striving for connection to our food and environment, I want connection to my home. I want not only to know EXACTLY what it takes for me to exist comfortably, happily and healthily, but to have achieved this myself. I want to step into our new structure, stand on a solid floor, and know that we built it, ourselves, with our brains and our hands. I want to see the light coming in through our beautiful bottle wall, and know that we managed to inspire our friends and families to participate in our vision and to help us collect materials that are better than anything we could buy at Home Depot. At the end of the day, I wan't to return to the home we built ourselves. Our home. I want to always remember exactly how terribly it sucked, how painful and taxing and tiring and frustrating and overwhelming it was to make ourselves a home. Our home-made home. I want to appreciate the hell out of it. And I hope that somehow along the way, we might possibly inspire this ideal to take root in a few other brains. Life is the greatest do-it-yourself project you can ever possibly imagine, so DO IT YOURSELF. This is your life. Make it happen. <3