Monday, February 1, 2016

A Self-Sufficient Life in 2016: Phase 4: Home

You could live in a 4-bedroom house in suburbia or a studio apartment above a pizza place and the same idea would hold true....nothing, absolutely nothing compares to the feeling you get when arriving home after a long day. Your couch. Your bed. Your walls and doors. It may be a little chaotic if you're like me and you've got kids and animals everywhere, but that's ok. You're home.

Humans need shelter to survive the elements, true. But a home is more than that. It is a place we can retreat, a place we can inject our personalities into, a place we can find those we love.

You know how they say some pets and pet owners look alike (remember 101 Dalmations??)? Well I think our homes are kinda similar - our homes are extensions of ourselves. One of my very good friends is super simple and often anxious - her house is minimally decorated and always clean. One of my favorite blogging buddies, Rachel, travels the world and moves often. Her homes tend to feature photographs of her family, treasures from lands far away, and things that make her super excited (like gas stoves!). And my home, while a constant work-in-progress, is a blend of gifts from family and friends, incomplete DIY projects, windows to my backyard, and kid stuff. Our homes wrap us up and make us feel safe. When we need to get away and rest, or eat, or clean ourselves, we go home. Comfort. Identity. Safety. 

But sometimes our homes stress us out. Sometimes rent is raised, or property taxes go up, or lawn care gets out of control, or roofs leak, or mice move in. Sometimes our home feels more like a trap, a box, than a place of peace. Sometimes we can't make our mortgage payments, or afford to fill our fridges, or shower in our broken bathrooms, or deal with our neighbor's thumping bass at 10PM on a Thursday. I sometimes find myself standing with my fists clenched against my sides, brow furrowed, wishing with all my heart I could just say damn the man and move to the middle of nowhere and sit in a cabin in the woods with canned green peppers and ice cream and maybe 3 chickens and that's it.

But then I think about how the goal is to be self-sustainable...capable....well-versed in solving life's little problems. So I try to follow a few easy methods of regaining a peaceful home. These things put the "Jen" back in "Jen's House," and help me keep reaching for a life surrounded the by things, people, and places I love.

Put Stuff Away
This one sounds easy but it isn't. When you eat a sammich, put the lunchmeat and bread away. I know, I know. You really want to eat the sammich. But before you even take a bite, put the stuff away, run your hand over the counter, and brush the crumbs into your palm. Toss 'em or lick 'em, your choice. Then eat. I promise, the sammich will taste way better.

Open your mail right after getting it out of the mailbox. I will literally stop at my recycling bin outside and toss the junk mail before it even enters my house. Bye, Felicia. Wash your dishes every night....or, if you're like me, make your kid do it (another post in this series will detail how to enlist those little hands!). Hang up your coat, remove your shoes in the house, teach your kids to do the same, asks guests to follow suit, can even teach your dogs to pause at the door to get their paws wiped.

Putting stuff away is the easiest way to avoid what I call "psychotic physical clutter," or PPC. Just sitting in a room filled with clutter will make you feel sick. It's true. It's one of those weird brain things. Look it up.

You do not need all those magazines, Jen. Nope. You really, really don't. Or those pants from high school. Your hips will never be the same and you know it. Nope, don't need all those birthday cards, either. Or that super old notebook from Jr High with all the doodles all over it. And the box of notes you saved from the pre-texting days of your youth. 

You know what I need to do when I notice crap piling up in my room, my kitchen, my basement? I need to sit back and think, "Will I want to look at this stupid vase when I'm on my deathbed? If a tornado raced through here, would I grab this stupid vase? Is this vase more important than my sanity?" And when the answer is no (because it is always no), I flip on my cold, cutthroat heart and I donate it. Yep. I cut myself off emotionally and realize I don't love things, I love people.

And then I donate the thing...or many Goodwill or one of those "leave it outside and we'll pick it up" placed like the Cancer Federation. I am always tempted to save it for a garage sale but you know what, I will never get what I think it's worth and by the time I actually hold the garage sale, I will have too much stuff to even see my garage. So I donate thousands of dollars worth of stuff each year. Things I bought. Things my family bought for me. Things my friends spent their money on. Yep, I will donate those things and not at all feel guilty...why? Because downsizing the immense amount of stuff I collect is good for me...and anyone who gives me a gift cares more about me than the object they gave me. 

Another way to do this? Move into a smaller house. Easy-peasy. No room? No stuff. *sighs* someday!

Learn Basic Repairs
I fixed my furnace once. Seriously. It wasn't turning on one morning and it was like 40 in the house and so I went down there, read the little indicator lights on my furnace, and then YouTubed videos made by HVAC dudes. I used a screwdriver to remove this little stick sensor from my furnace, rubbed the stick with some fine-grain sandpaper per the video dude, then put it back and whammo, heat. Still one of my proudest moments to date...and it was just a silly furnace thing. But you know what? I saved a call to the furnace guy that day. And I saved money. And that feels awesome.

Learn how to do some basic stuff around your house. Figure out how to check the electrical box, snake a drain, troubleshoot heating and cooling issues, check the wear and tear on your roof, and run your lawn mower. You don't need to be good at it, you just gotta be willing to learn and solve some of your own problems. This is self-sufficiency, yes? You know how I make it fun? I pin home repair tutorials :) This Old House has a Pinterest page, people! 

Budget Home Maintenance
I typically wait until a problem occurs before finding the money to fix it. This hasn't bitten me in the butt so far, but it's coming. One of these days something major is going to happen and I won't have the money to fix it and I will end up floating down the street in an upside-down umbrella while a river of my own sewage or something flows under me. Taking $20 a week and putting it into an envelope for emergency home repairs would be awesome....but I think we can take it one step further.

Take the time to perform preventative maintenance. Change your furnace filter. Clean out your gutters. Cut back plants near your foundation. Actually go up in the dark, scary, gross attic with a super-bright flashlight and look for signs of water damage or little critters. Clean your oven. Inspect the caulk around sinks and tubs and patch any holes (yes - you can do this!). Prevention takes time and is annoying but it can save you in the long run!

Prioritize Projects
I have notebooks filled with pictures of remodel ideas. I quite literally want to do close to 10 home projects at any given moment. 

A good friend once sat through my long list of "I want to's" and she sat back and very calmly asked if I planned on living in this home into retirement. I gasped. Of course not. I will be living in my earthen-carved hobbit hole by the time I am retired. She guessed as much (clever girl) and suggested I focus on projects that would significantly add to the value of the home. Would bumping a wall out and expanding the kitchen be awesome? Yes. Would it get me my remodel money back? Not likely, not in this neighborhood. Simple things, like updating countertops, sinks, and getting a non-crumbling back porch would make much more sense from an investment perspective. Yes, my bubble may have burst a little...but her words helped free up my brain for the projects that really, truly need to get done.

Conserve Energy
I mean it. Don't just sigh and scroll past this one. I mean really, really try to reduce your energy bills. Do it for your planet. Do it for your bank account. Do it because candlelight is cool. Just do it. 

Turn off your lights. Unplug appliances that are not in use. Caulk windows. Open curtains on south-facing walls in the winter....close them in the summer. Experiment with different temperature settings on your thermostat. Considered warming your home through alternative means, like a rocket mass heater - those things are seriously incredible. Just try to make a dent, no matter how small. Give it a try. Each mini-step you take in reducing your energy consumption brings you that much closer to freedom from the grids and ties with corporate energy conglomerates....and well on your way to self-sustainability. 

Never Stop Dreaming
I'm obsessed with cob, cordwood, and strawbale houses. Honestly, if I knew back then what I know now, I would've bought a plot of land and built my house from the sand and clay and straw around me instead of taking out a $145k mortgage like everyone else. I would've sunk my whole body into some mushy wet clay and built all these awesome curved windows and used bottles for window holes and built-in benches and crazy river rock mosaics and living roofs. 

But I did not do that. And instead of feeling sorry for myself, or wanting to punch myself in the face, I'm going to hold onto my bucket of dreams and take some steps, however little, to making them a reality. 

You're always going to want something you don't have. That is the very essence of being human. There's nothing wrong with it - it's the motivating force behind our lives, to strive for more. Combine that motivation with a well-balanced sense of gratuity, and I'd say you've got yourself a pretty stable little mental state. Don't let your circumstances prevent you from reaching for what you want. Don't stop believing on this journey. Oh yeah, I just did that. 

Our homes are so much more than shelter. Some homes are made of four walls, others of four ventricles, but regardless of what you call home, know that you alone have the power to change your surroundings. Make the most of it.

What do you consider "home?" How can you become more self-sufficient with your surroundings? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Did you miss a Self-Sufficient Life series post? Don't worry! Here's what we've covered so far:


  1. I'm a huge proponent of downsizing.Every December, my husband and I go through our storage room and get rid of anything we haven't used at least once that year (unless it has sentental value.) We've become.increasingly less sentimental since we developed this habit!

    1. I love the feeling of purging all my stuff. Makes me feel lighter and more free and YES, you definitely get less sentimental as time goes by! Thank you so much for stopping over Pam :) Have a great week!

  2. Brilliant advice! Getting stuck in and making something your own, having complete command over it, and not letting it run away with itself is a great philosophy. Create more, consume less I say!

    1. Absolutely :) I love the thought of consuming less while maintaining an awesome quality of life...perhaps better than if you were consuming your typical amount of energy! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Such good advice! I'm tempted to print this off and hang it on the fridge as a reminder. I'm really grateful our new home has excellent natural lighting to help with that energy control point you make.

    1. :) Your comments make me smile Carlene! Thank you so much - and I am so excited your new home has such fantastic natural lighting!!! The south side of my home is a garage and I can't help but want to knock it down and install solar panels and a greenhouse!! :)

  4. I work from home, so my "home" means so many things to me. I've recently started getting rid of clutter and junk that once drove me crazy and distracted me from working (or relaxing when I'm not working)! It's freeing. I'm starting to be less annoyed and learning to be more happy in my home.

    1. Isn't it incredible? I love, love, love cleaning everything out. It makes you more mindful when you purchase, too.....thinking about how much work it is to get rid of everything once it gets to be too much is sometimes just as motivating!! :) Lovely to hear from you Mary!

  5. Beautiful words and GREAT advice! I get stressed out by my home most when the clutter takes over, it's something you have to be on top of all the time.

    1. Thank you Lara - I can't stand clutter but if I'm not careful I turn into the "closet" clutterer - the one who has random stuff stuck in all the drawers, closets, and bins hidden throughout the if I can't see it, it's not a problem! That's just as insane! I need to make visible piles so I am more motivated to get rid of it all :)

  6. After moving a couple times in the past 2 years, I am finally in my forever home and I purged so many things I didn't really need, So I totally agree with downsizing. Also, the less stuff I have to pick up every day after work, the longer time we have to relax!

    1. So true!! And it just feels good! Thanks so much for stopping over Jennifer! :)

  7. I just moved into a new house - the move out of the old house was a chance to part with some clutter, then as we moved into the new house I find another chance to purge. It will be a while until the new place feels like home, but I want to get off on the right start!

    1. Ahh, how refreshing!! That sounds awesome! I bet your new home will feel like home in no time :) Congrats on the move! And thank you for visiting!