Mark (my hubby) and I now sit on the floor to eat all our meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner – on the floor. It’s not that we can’t afford a table or are even waiting to find one that works in our space. We actually have two tables in storage (we each inherited a family table). One of these we were even using in the yurt until we decided we should start eating on the floor. We don’t, however, eat off the floor. We’re not animals, after all. (Actually, we are, so I guess I’d be cool eating off the floor, too.) We have an octagon of birch plywood perched atop a wooden box that raises it just enough for our legs to fit under the table top.
The advantages of the floor table are multi-fold. First, it can disappear be dismantled and transformed into a decorative art piece and storage box leaving the precious space open for whatever is called for – a sleepover, yoga, a prayer circle, a dance party, a giant domino chain. The possibilities are endless. The floor table also comfortably fits eight people around it’s relatively small perimeter because we don’t have to hassle with pesky, cumbersome chairs that take up more space than a single person. A typical American table of the same size (one that requires chairs) could seat four, possibly squeezing in up to six. The floor table also means we don’t have to store eight chairs, assuming we even owned eight chairs which we do not, in order to host eight people. Genius! (We do have plans to make the table adjustable so it can also be a chair table for guests that need it. Another DIY project in our future!)
All these things contribute to living well in 314 square feet, but my favorite benefit of the floor table is how it reminds me that there is always more than one good way of doing something. Many people in many parts of the world through much of human history (I suspect it’s actually most people in most parts of the world throughout most of human history) did not have chairs. Those who did only had a chair because they were in a position of authority. (This is where we get “chairman of a committee” and “cathedral” – where the Bishop’s chair is.) That doesn’t mean chairs are wrong, which I hope goes without saying. But it does mean they are not a necessity. Just because they are common does not mean they are no longer a luxury. (Similarly, just because you make less money than most people in your community does not mean you aren’t within the world’s wealthiest 20%, something I try to remind myself of often.)
The way we are used to doing things isn’t necessarily the best way or the way that makes the most sense. Sometimes it is, but not always. Mark and I have embraced this philosophy wholeheartedly. As off-grid yurt dwellers, this may already be absurdly obvious. It has become an exciting challenge to seek out and subsequently shed any assumptions we have of how a home ought to be and instead think about what works best, not only for us, but for all creatures and systems that are impacted by our decision.
This philosophy extends well beyond our home to the very essence of how we live our lives.
“Regular Jobs” Are Like Chairs – They’re Not as Necessary as You Think
The mother of all societal norms is what we choose to be the gravitational center of our lives. I call it the mother of all norms because this is what ends up determining what we do day to day and therefore, what our life is devoted to. Within my demographic – white, college educated, middle class – it often feels like that decision has been made for us. Upon college graduation we receive the invisible edict:
“From this day forward, your life will revolve around your career, and then in the future possibly some combination of your career, your spouse’s career, and your children’s schooling. All other aspects of your life – where you live, creative pursuits, spiritual or religious practice, hobbies, vacations – must work themselves around your nine to five and benefits package.”
This may be a perfectly reasonable way to choose to live one’s life. I sure hope it is based solely on how many people are living it! But like a dining room table three to four feet off the floor with one chair per buttocks, it is not the only way of doing things.
This fall I had the joy of hosting a group of students from the college where I used to work. They came to enjoy their October break backpacking in autumnal New England (an excellent life choice). Under the starry sky and over a gourmet-for-camping buffet of pasta with choice of alfredo, marinara or cheese sauce, chicken sausages, sweet potatoes, and locally-made chocolate and vanilla ice cream, we discussed the post-college life on their horizons. Each one of them felt like they had one option – to get a full-time job within their field of study. Their reasons were not unreasonable – there were steep loans to be paid for most. For those fortunate enough to be graduating debt-free, the pressure to “make the most of their education” (translation: get a well-paying job in my field) was equally foreboding. Again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting a well-paying job within one’s field any more than I think eating at a high table is wrong. What felt wrong was the sense of stuckness these young women were experiencing. It didn’t sound like they were choosing this direction for themselves. The gravitational pull to orient their lives around career, capitalism, and consumerism had already been decided for them.
I desperately tried to let them know there were other ways. It may involve sacrifice. It would definitely require imagination and creativity. It may even require doing the salaried job for a time to dig out of crippling levels of student debt. But despite all this, there are other ways of doing things. You don’t need chairs if you don’t want them.
How We Make a Living (And Only Somewhat Related, How We Make Money)
Mark and I have chosen to orient our entire adult lives around something other than a money-making career. In this experiment (aka our life),we are attempting to craft a sustainable way of living that leads to wholeness of body, soul and spirit, not just for ourselves, but for all who share this earth.
Our life (yes our life for Mark’s and my lives are hopelessly wedded in almost every way) is a beautiful and complicated web of prayer, building projects, writing, retreats, visioning, homesteading, trip guiding, body movement training, wild food gathering, and teaching. Nearly every week we give at least some attention to each of these “things we do.” Some provide for our needs (money, food, or shelter) directly, others are investments that we hope will provide for us or our community in the future and others are our life’s service to the world.
We are learning the art of living well on a small amount of money and finding it quite easy to do so. The things that help us live on a small income – like harvesting wild food, living in a yurt (no mortgage!), heating exclusively with wood, or building our own furniture – are the very things that contribute to a holistic, soul-nourishing life. It’s a positive feedback loop! Simple lives allow for spacious lives. Spacious lives give us the freedom to decide how they are lived.
The privilege to live this way has required all of the things listed above – years of paying down debt (and making choices to not take on more debt), sacrifice, creativity, and imagination. It’s the kind of imagination and creativity that may lead you to eat your dinner off a floor table by candle light in a 314-square foot yurt and realize you are richer than you ever dreamed possible.