The following is a guest post by Jessica Reeder. I’m a huge fan of Jessica’s work, writing and commitment to community building. You’ll see why once you read this fantastic article. Jessica recently launched an awesome blog called Love and Trash. Stop by and check it out!
I’ve always had a lot of stuff. By the time I was 25, I had a truckload of possessions (most of them stained and dented); a leased car; two separate wardrobes for work and play… and the list goes on.
From that point, I started relying on money. I needed enough income to pay for my car, and I also needed a big enough apartment for all my things. I needed money to spend at San Francisco clubs every weekend, and I also needed fabulous outfits to wear to those clubs. I needed good haircuts, and awesome shoes.
You can see where this is going. After a while, I realized that my lifestyle no longer fit my personality. Like anybody else, I was a slave to my stuff. I was no longer able to live in connection with the natural world as I’d been raised. I could see blue skies through my window, but never had time to go outside. I had two, sometimes three jobs and a recurring headache. I was developing weird addictions and health problems.
It was time to make a drastic change: I started giving things away.
Getting rid of my stuff was an time-consuming process, however. It took years to wean myself off my piles of beautiful junk. I had time to think about why I was doing it, where I wanted to end up. It was mid-Bush era, and after marching against oil wars I’d also come to recognize my dependence on that oil. I dropped off my car and walked away on foot. But it wasn’t enough.
I wanted to find a way to live more naturally, with less energy expended and more chance for fulfillment. But I really didn’t know how. How could I reconcile my desire for simplicity with my love for the new and fashionable? Was there a way to be sustainable without being a barefoot hippie? And if going hippie was the only way, how would I make the change? I knew nothing about gardening, cooking, keeping chickens. My internet skillz wouldn’t help me in the “real” world.
At the same time, I realized that I couldn’t stay in California, not permanently. Property values, rents, the cost of living (especially in the Bay Area) were ridiculous, and I’d never be able to slow down if my expenses stayed high. I wanted to find a place to settle down, get some land, build an energy-efficient house. But where? California was all I knew.
So, at the age of 30, I decided to have an adventure.
I bought a 5×8′ trailer, packed my remaining possessions into it, and parked it in my dad’s backyard. I threw a few things into a backpack and set out on the road with $5,000 in savings. My goal was to find a place to live, and the skills to build a new life from the ground up. I would blog the whole thing at Uprooted, an eco/travel blog.
Four months later, the economy crashed and most of my coworkers were laid off. I suddenly found myself with an advantage: I’d gotten out before things got bad, and I was ready and able to live on pennies. Despite my fear and despite feeling sorry for those who weren’t so fortunate, I realized that I really was…lucky.
Over the next year, my luck continued. With only that $5,000, I traveled throughout America. I worked on farms, built Earthships, camped, volunteered, and met amazing people. I discovered a massive, powerful undercurrent running through our country. Everywhere I went, everyone I met had opinions on the environment. Everybody (aside from a few hardy souls in San Francisco, LA, Texas and New York) was making some kind of effort to reduce their impact.
Some of the most inspiring folks were the ones you might pre-judge as top offenders. A Republican construction worker in Colorado gave me a ride in his big white truck. He drove back and forth from Denver to Boulder every day, he said, and always tried to pick up a rideshare so he didn’t feel so bad about wasting the gas.
An Arizona insurance agent in his 50s told me he’d dropped all his work for six months to volunteer on an organic farm, simply because it felt like the right thing to do.
A good-old-boy cab driver in Arkansas waxed poetic about wildlife management, hunters’ responsibilities and urban encroachment.
Then there were the liberals, the anarchists, the artists and freegans. So many people, working to change the world with only their callused hands and fevered brains. Experiments in architecture, agriculture, transportation and community: they were everywhere, all around. And every time my passion began to flag, a new and exciting experience would come along to sweep me up again.
I landed back in California in late 2009, worn out and entirely changed. I knew what I wanted now, and I knew it was achievable. It all seemed so easy. But I’d also come to recognize that the current that had been sweeping me around the country was still under the surface. Many of the people I’d met felt unrecognized, alone in their efforts. That’s part of why I’d had such good fortune: the people I’d met were achingly eager to share their knowledge with the greater public, but they didn’t have the means to do it.
I decided to become their means. It was time to focus on the individuals, the little actions, the possible and entertaining side of sustainable living. I wanted to build a bridge between those who were living like I was five years ago, and those who are living like I will five years from now. And so, Love and Trash was born.
We’re a brand-new DIY blog dedicated to radical interdependence, small possible actions, and grassroots inspiration. We like to focus on real people and real possibilities—because although it’s wonderful to dream about a mansion made from recycled materials, none of us ever expect to live in one. Rather, we expect to have small, modest houses, happy families, a garden and a few chickens, and the opportunity to create a tiny sphere of goodness in a world full of trash.
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Note: Photography by Jessica Reeder