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Saturday, July 16, 2011


Sometimes it’s all about how we get there. If you suddenly had to cut your electric power usage by 98%, you’d be pretty stressed. Now lets say your electric power is cut off completely. It could be a storm, or even the inability to pay rising bills.

After going without power for a while, any electricity would be welcome. Let’s say after a couple of weeks without power, you acquire a 60 watt solar panel, charge controller, battery, and a 200 watt inverter. Now you can have an electric light or two at night, play the radio, or even run a notebook computer for a bit. Sure beats the heck out of zero electricity.

Few appreciate living on a tiny bit of electricity when they’ve had all they needed at the flick of a switch. Going without any makes a person realize how amazing a bit of free power from the sun can be.

Americans use crazy amounts of water -drinking, bathing, washing clothes, dishes, cars, and watering lawns. Often it’s hundreds of gallons per person per day. After a day of having no water at all, one gallon of clean water per person per day is a mighty fine thing indeed.

Housing? Go from a McMansion to homeless and a one room yurt is excellent shelter. Heating? Most people keep their whole house comfortable all winter using fossil fuels. Make that fuel unavailable, and a small woodstove with a supply of wood is a blessing. Food? A phone call to the local eatery will bring hot food to your door. Go without for a few days, and a home garden with a few chickens or rabbits is hugely appreciated.

Sure, small and simple is beautiful. So what?

It’s about how you decide to transition to future conditions. If you’ve paid any attention to the world, you know the economy is in trouble. The price of fossil fuels is going up and availability is an issue. The world is running out of clean water. Crops are doing poorly in major agriculture regions. Trouble is brewing no matter where one looks.

Ignoring the problem puts a person in a situation where they go from 100% to zero. One day the power is shut off, the furnace goes cold, the pantry is bare and the faucets run dry. It’s possible all these things could happen together, but losing even one of these things puts a person in a bad situation.

The wise person knows trouble is coming and downsizes while it’s possible. Trading in a “typical” lifestyle for a simpler one voluntarily can be difficult. The spouse and kids might do some screaming. They may assume the good times will roll on forever and you suspect strongly they won’t. If the collapse happens slowly enough for people to ignore it, they won’t transition to a more sustainable life until it can’t be done. The homeless person with no resources has very limited options.

While nothing teaches as well as the school of hard knocks, the wise person learns in less painful ways. He can imagine going from 100% to zero with actually have to do so in real life. Because he can make that leap of imagination, he can experience the joys of enough.



  1. Nice post. I live low in rural Nova Scotia and I live really well without TV in a small house heated with my own wood, and a shallow well pump that can be turned by hand when there is no power. I sleep well at night.

    Paul Hawken wrote in an introduction to the book Hooked: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire and the Urge to Consume

    I have a friend who has, count them, six hundred objects in his home. That includes everything, even teaspoons. At one time he was officer of one of the world's largest banks. When he wants to buy something, or receives a gift, he selects something to give away. This is not a zero-sum game.As the years have gone by his home has become more nuanced and lovely. Every object has meaning; nothing is retained unnecessarily. His home is like a small temple. He needs very little money to live on, which means he spends most of his time helping others.


    I am not sure that I could get down to 600 items (my chainsaw needs parts and tools) but I also enjoy aiming for that low number of possessions. Saves on storage space, if nothing else.

    Thanks . . . Alan

  2. Always good to practice once in a while! Been on both sides of the problem and I can's easier if you already know what to expect!

  3. I love it when the juice goes out and I can break out the hurricane lamps. I'm kinda "warped" that way I guess. But all I really need is a shack by the water, a little sailboat, and some fishin' tackle. I could be happy living aboard a Catalina 22 or a slide in camper. And I could do with a lot less than 600 items...

  4. a generation that expects constant excess on demand would be reduced to shocked zombies when the well of plenty runs dry....

    it maqy come sooner than most ever expect...