Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our Large American Life

Although I live in a 1200 square foot "shouse" I have always been a lover of houses.  From the time I was a child houses have intrigued me, the older the better.  I love secret passageways, quirky architecture and imperfection.  Fascinated by both form and function, I'm especially drawn to homes that not only provide shelter to it's inhabitants but also serve as the hub of family industry - in other words, working homes.  Ah, but I digress....

Earlier this week, while recuperating from a nasty illness (more on that later), I had the opportunity to watch a house hunting program on television.  I rarely have the ability to watch any television programming, so it was a rare treat to tour homes all over the globe from the comfort of my easy chair.  The show that I watched followed couples and families as they left the comfort of their native United States and embarked on new lives in a foreign country.  Ready for adventure, each family sought to immerse themselves in the culture and uniqueness of their adopted home.

Or did they....

House after house, family after family, I noticed a troubling, recurring theme - the inability to manage extreme hardships - hardships such as no closets, dated kitchens and only 1 bathroom!  I was horrified!

As each family trudged from house to house, talking about how they wanted vast cultural experiences for their children, I realized that what they really wanted were new museums and restaurants to explore, while comfortably settling into their thoroughly American style home each evening.  Although I'm quite certain they thought they were giving their children an unparalleled cultural upbringing, they, in fact, were living an American life with a cultural flair.

I watched, in awe, as family after family decried each available home - the kitchens weren't updated, they didn't have "American" refrigerators, there was only 1 bathroom, the rooms were so small and my personal favorite - "how do you people live with no closets"?  Quite frankly, I was embarrassed.  Have we, as Americans, become so accustomed to our comfortable, large lifestyle that we can't "suffer" with limited closet space or, heaven, forbid, a single bathroom?  No wonder we are universally despised!

In truth, we approach survival and preparedness in the same "typical American" fashion as those expat families. We claim to be preparing for an uncertain future but in reality, we are preparing to live our large, American life while everyone else is suffering and dying in the street.  We are trying to figure out how to keep our larders full and our 2 1/2 baths  in working order by throwing money, money and more money at the problem.  Instead of preparing to completely change the way we live, to make the best out of a really bad situation, we are trying to think of every possible scenario and anticipate our every "need" - so that we can continue living our large American life.

A number of years ago an acquaintance sought Sir Knight's advice on setting up his desired off-grid system.  He wanted advice on food storage, water storage and a photovoltaic system.  He told Sir Knight how large his family was, how big his house was, what his appliances were (electric hot water heater, electric dryer, electric range) and other pertinent information.   He wanted to know how much food he should store and how large a solar array he needed to run his household and feed his family just the way it was - with no changes to comforts or diet.  How much would it cost?  Without hesitation Sir Knight said "It would take a million dollars".   That was it.  With no comprise in standards, any long-term survivability would require at least a million dollars.  Of course, that would only work until the first domino of their system fell and then they would be in the dark along with the rest of the world.  Their million dollars would be worthless and their large American lifestyle would quickly crumble around them.  Without disciplined resourcefulness and practical ingenuity, measured with a healthy dose of focus and strength in the midst of suffering, we American's wouldn't survive a two week power outage much less a full scale economic collapse!

Now is the time to leave your large American life behind.  Learn to live with less.  Use what you have.  Be the one to make bad situations better.  Fortify your relationships. Know God and seek His will.  Build on those things that cannot be taken from you - faith, skills, courage, discipline, honor. 

Invest in authentic preparedness - not in your large American life.


  1. Agreed - awesome read! Lots to think think on...thank you!

  2. I know the tv show you are talking about and I stopped watching it because of how pathetic the americans were wanting exactly what they had left behind in the states. I was under the impression that moving to another country included adapting to that country's way of life. I watched that show because I was interested in learning about other life styles but the whiny princesses just got to me.

    I lived in a 330 sq ft apartment and upgraded to a 484 sq ft about 3 years ago. it is like a mansion to me with a real bedroom and lots of closets for all my preps. I love it except that it is urban and I no longer have a way to move away from the city since I retired. I still am grateful for and make the most of everything I have.

  3. Excellent article. While stationed in Korea for 4 years, we lived on the was a challenge, at times, but my wife and I loved it. Hardship...yes at times, but well worth it. We "heard" all the complaints from other Americans over there and we hated it. Our experience was very rewarding.

  4. How timely this article is! My child and I watched an episode on YouTube yesterday evening. A young couple with two small children transferred to Vevey, Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was a big opportunity for the husband to advance within his company but all she could do was moan and complain about having to leave Ohio and how the houses lacked closets, ensuite bathrooms, etc... but mostly how it wasn't Ohio. She chose a house that gave them the most American lifestyle but that required her husband do a lengthy daily commute over a 4 bed-room apartment, ten minutes walk from his office because she didn't want to have a communal play area for the children or use an elevator... My son was appalled. I hope that she watches that show now and is embarrassed but somehow I doubt it...

  5. Amen to that. Thanks to your website & book I have learned to be more self sufficient in this past year. Each time I make something that I don't have to buy at a store makes me feels so good about myself. When I talk with my co-workers about what I'm doing they get that blank look on their face like "Why are you doing that". Thank you again and I'm glad your feeling better.

  6. Enola,

    American's are spoiled. I've lived in other countries, and lived wonderfully in a smaller homes without all the toys, bells, and whistles. It can be done.............only if you decide to make the change.

  7. Growing up in the 60's we lived in a 3 bedroom-1 bathroom house-4 girls in one bedroom, 4 boys in the other and one for the parents. Yup, that's 10 people in a 1500 sq ft house. It never bothered me and it taught me to get along with my siblings. It irks me today when I hear kids say they HAVE to have their own bedroom.

  8. Oh that's a great article! While building our 'shouse' Montana Gal, her little dog Shotgun and I lived the first winter in a 7'x9' space. I joke now that it was truly a survival situation; not for us but for Shotgun. But seriously, at the end of every working day we were warm, dry, well fed and cozy. The only structure on the property was an old outhouse. Temps got down to -18F. It worked. Remember the stories you heard about outhouses? They are true. A year-round creek was another real blessing. And lugging 5-gal water jugs weighing in at 40+ lbs. saved us the expense of gym memberships.

    Of course you can imagine the typical response of our urbanized friends. They felt sorry for us. And even now they can't imagine living in our Homestead heated with a little tent stove, with no formal kitchen, no bedroom and... (gulp) no closet! But we have so many blessings. It seems that we have gained so much and the American’ts have lost so much.

    Montana Guy

  9. Very well said, we missed reading your articles and hope you are feeling better. I look forward to reading what is happening in your world.

  10. I lived on the economy when I was stationed in Belgium. I decided to do so because the military housing was a ghetto. I had a nice 2 story duplex with 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, a small kitchen, it was a comfortable place. No closets! My wife never complained, neither did I.

  11. Street credit comes from actually doing vs. just talking. Real in every way. That's why we love you guys. See you soon.

  12. All of us have watched many reels of House Hunters. The Americans are embarrassing with the wives constant and unending complaining. But there is more about that show that bothers me. It is one thing, if the breadwinner (husband or wife) is transferred, given a promotion, or moves to save their job. Another culture can be an amazing experience for all family members. But I worry about the children who are uprooted because mommy wants to pretend she is French, or the unending whine of "giving our children a cultural experience". These children are Americans. They will be strangers in a strange land. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc will become relatives who have no connection to them. The time to build family is limited;at 18 they will move on to their own lives. Children end up not quite being French-Italian-Swiss-etc and yet they will not be truly Americans. Traditions will be skewed at best. Thanksgiving is an American celebration with a unique story. It will not translate to a foreign country.
    And no, I'm not an old curmudgeon. My dad worked for the Atomic Energy Commission and we travelled constantly. In the second grade I attended 4 different schools. Both of my parents came from very large families yet I was close to maybe 3 aunts and 2 cousins on my mom's side. I don't know my father's family at all. So there is a price to pay for children. I think most kids would prefer a small, happy, house versus the mega mansion where life is confusing and unsure. -Stealth Spaniel

  13. I agree - we American's don't need the space most of us think we do. Sir Knight is right on with the solar system - it isn't feasible to replicate the full power use of an on grid house off grid; it requires a change in lifestyle.

  14. Let me guess: House Hunters International on HGTV. Yes, that wonderful program that highlights how materialistic we have become as an American society. I've seen that show (at my parents house since we don't own a t.v.) and the other one based in America and it. makes. me. sick!!!!

    I literally get so upset that I have to walk away because I look at these folks and think, "This is why our country is falling apart! You people can't live within a budget and need a 4 bedroom house when there's only you, your husband and some stupid 5lb dog"!!! It's all based on buying on credit, keeping up with the stars on t.v. and living in fantasy land. This will all fall apart and Lord help those poor people.

  15. All we have to do is drive down the latest suburban American street and see how spoiled we are as 'rich Americans' On the other hand, I have to say...most of these 'reality' shows are contrived, and the saddest thing to me is that the producers think that arguing and complaining is 'entertainment' Just like 'news' programs that seek conflict and shouting matches and call it 'debate' They do it for ratings and civil, rational discourse is a thing of the past on TV. I've known individuals and families that have adapted to simpler lifestyles and done it gracefully..I don't know if that's the norm, maybe the exception. Thanks for your blog, it's awesome!

  16. I love the prices those people can afford for the house or renting it..... I'm like oh my goodness what job do you have that you can afford that price, that's outrageous. Only a few times haile I seen a couple actually stay low and within a decent price for their house.... Do they know how well the would be prepared if they lowered their expectations and used the money wisely.... sheesh....

  17. My dad, born in the 30's, grew up in a 2 bedroom 1 bath 800 sq foot house till he was grown. Didn't hurt him or his 2 brothers to share a small bedroom and learn to share the bathroom, back then it was called "normal".

    Flash forward today and I had the pleasure of meeting a mother of 10 who lives in a 1000 sq foot house....yes you read that right: 1,000 sq feet. She and her husband didn't want to be in debt so they built what they could afford. And guess what: the kids are fine! It can be done.

  18. Hubby and I had a hard time convincing a friend/realtor that we did NOT want a family room and our kids would share bedrooms, including the toddler baby boy with his much older brothers. She finally had an epiphany, remembered how close she was with her sisters three sharing a bedroom and that she remembers being together with her family in the LR. We told her specifically we just wanted one big room: kitchen, eating area, LR combined. That is where our children gathered anyway in the "big" house we owned at the time. We downsized and loved it, it fit our family. We like to live "light", clean quickly and get outside.
    I'm now in a house I deem too big at 2170, too cut up into tiny bedrooms and LR and family room, but it came with the dirt and the shop. It is a manufactured home so someday I hope to sell it and have it moved off and build a shop apartment, otherwise known as a shouse. We had a beautiful one years ago, simple and neat.
    I also had a great old 1890 house, lots of nooks, crannies, under stair storage and even had closets, all of which were lined with the original fancy hooks they hung their clothes on. It had been built by German craftsmen and was reportedly built for the town doctor. It had an upstairs bathroom but it had been removed. We were quite happy, the six of us sharing ONE indoor bathroom.
    Like you, we've been asked about our solar system. We tell everyone it is for the basics: WATER is first, the freezers and refrigerators is second. Everything else is optional after that and we tell them all they will not support their largess on a solar system unless they are millionaires and have so many panels they are a main attraction in the circus of life.

  19. For all of you that are tired like me of the "house hunting" shows with unrealistic expectations you might just want to watch "Tiny House Nations".

    This is a show about singles, couples and families that have voluntarily decided to give up their usual lifestyles and homes to live in a newly constructed mobile tiny house. The show is an hour long and shows how the family gives up not only their homes but many of their uneeded/unwanted possessions in order to fit into a "tiny home" between 200-500 sq. feet. For many this process is not easy but the hosts of the show help them to find ways to accomplish the task. It is interesting to see what they keep to take with them and what they choose to eliminate.

    The building of the home is also quite interesting. Many times the owners of the home are actively involved in the construction process. The design of the homes always take into account the needs and wants of the owners. Many of them use solar power, propane and compostable toilets to provide the necessities while others plug into provided electrical power on their lot and some homes can do both. . Most of these homes are placed on family/purchased land or are made to be moved around the country in order for the owners to follow their jobs/careers.

    The reasons that people give for going to this kind of lifestyle are mobility--freedom---independence---and financial. Getting out of debt seems to be one of the big financial motivators. Family togetherness and focus on the important things for their children is another. Not having to be such a wage slave and having more free time for the things you really love to do another. Some plan to live in their tiny homes for many years and others on a more limited basis.

    Whatever their reasons or plans I find refreshing it that there are Americans out there that are turning away from the "greedy/spoiled" lifestyle that seems so prevalent today. They are willing to give up many of their possessions and creature comforts (like closets) to live a totally new life. I would say that these folks are the "New Pioneers" of this country. That they are on a quest to find more out of their life than just acquiring "more stuff" and "more debt" This is a show that really says that "less can be more".

    P.S. I am not affiliated with this show ---just wanted to share another possibility out there. It is on FYI network and probably on You Tube.

  20. While our 100 yr old farmhouse has bathrooms (2 1/2 -- though that's counting a separate toilet, shop sink and butcher's shower in the basement as 1 bath!), it was built without plumbing, with a closet converted to a 1/2 bath and a bedroom to a full bath, we're able to keep functional without much in the way of electricity. In our setting, it's more about the mindset of being able to make do without power/propane. While all the doors dividing the first floor rooms were removed at some point, some farmer in some remote decade saw fit to keep all the hardware and the actual doors throughout all the occupants and we still actually have them to help conserve heat in the winter when we're dependent on wood only. We still keep chickens in the original chicken coop and adapted it to include a goat pen and run. We like the mindset around here of making do and making it work with what you've got. No house on the golf course for us!