Monday, February 17, 2014

Simplicity in the city

I am fairly sure I am not alone in the yearning for a little more space to experiment with simple living. Probably one of the most basic tenets is trying to raise your own food - plant and animal. Whether you want to be sure that your food has been organically, ethically and locally raised, or whether you are just intrigued to learn more about where food comes from, the difference between eggs from different birds and breeds and the commercially unknown variations on 'standard' fruit and veg (golden beetroot, yellow raspberries, purple carrots and so on), I think many of us want to explore this arena - certainly I do.

However, this takes space. Yes, you can grow food in pots on balconies, and yes apparently you can even raise quail in a (largeish) balcony, but you certainly can't get a goat or a milk cow to supply your home dairy, or have a large enough apple harvest to fill your pies through the winter. And moreover, I certainly would not feel comfortable raising quail or any kind of animal on a balcony because even if they only need something like 1-2 square feet per bird, it would still feel wrong not to house them somewhere they can peck at grass and bugs and suchlike.

So what do we do? Well, we can certainly live vicariously through other people's farming endeavours. I am personally really enjoying Kate's tour of Purple Pear Farm for International Year of Family Farming. We can read up and educate ourselves on how to plant a vegetable garden and how to manage livestock, or begin practicing some of the skills that might come in useful, such as combing and spinning a fleece, or making yoghurt and cheese.

However, far more useful and far more satisfying for living a simpler life now is to focus on those things that are as easy - or in some cases even easier - in an urban environment.

(1) Transport

Ever hear people talk about the challenge of becoming a 'one-car family'? It's not an uncommon phrase on some simple living blogs and podcasts (particularly in the USA, I think). It sounds weird to me. I don't know any family with two cars. We don't even have one. Why would we need one? Why spend money to sit in long traffic jams and then spend ages trying to find a parking space? We live a twenty-minute walk or less from parks, metro stations, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, farmers markets, and both our work places. We can walk to the city centre in 40 minutes, or take the metro and be there in 25. So take advantage of public transport, bike lanes and your own two feet - and think smugly of all the CO2 and all the hard-earned money that you are not wasting on car use.

(2) Community

You might just have noticed that population density is rather higher in cities than more rural areas. That means a whole lot more people to share things with. Whether farmers' markets or knitting groups, cookery courses or opportunities for political engagement, there's probably far more in your city than outside. Find something that feels right for you in your area and get involved, even if just once a month.

(3) Small living

If you live in a city, the chances are pretty high that you live in an appartment. Space will be limited, and the cost of upgrading to a larger home will probably be discombobulatingly high. Think about using the space you have now more effectively, try to reduce the amount of stuff you have and streamline the time, effort and money it costs you to maintain your home. Think about how your routines support the life you want to have, and consider making your own green cleaners. You might even open up some space for trying new things like stockpiling and preserving.

(4) Simplifying your diet

You may not be able to grow your own - yet - but you can certainly work on how you will use them when you do. Start meal planning, shopping on a budget, and exploring local farmers' markets where you can try lesser known vegetables. Have a go at preserving - make strawberry jam when it's in season and cheap, or pickle beetroot. Learn to bake bread or make yoghurt or brew beer. Whatever you do, focus on things you like and enjoy, and start slowly.

Rhonda Hetzel over at Down to Earth encourages us to 'bloom where we are planted' and it is so true that we feel dissatisfied when we focus on what we can't do, but enriched when we focus on what we can. Start here, now, where you are.


  1. Oh I love your post today. Well I love them everyday really but this one has hit a particular spot with me. As permaculturalists much is talked about about growing foood. And of course that is very important but equally important are the things you talked about today. Not much good is achieved if the others parts of our lifestyle are not designed to also fit into a more sustainable way of living. And I'm glad you're enjoying your little glimpses of our farm.

    1. Thank you - I'm glad you're enjoying my ramblings! I think it's so easy to see simple living and a permaculture lifestyle as one for rural areas or farmers only, but I think we need to embrace those principles much more broadly if we're going to move towards a more sustainable way of life across the board.

  2. Great post ! Even though I am on a farm , I can still use this advice.



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