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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

How to Make a Living Without a Job

When my husband and I deserted our cushy life and city jobs five years ago to stitch together a living on our dream homestead in the sticks, we didn’t know there was a term for such outrageous behavior. Ah, but, there is.

Coined in 1996 by fellow ship-jumper and author Michael Fogler, “un-jobbing” is exactly what we are doing here in the Ozarks. Like Fogler, we freed ourselves from a life of merely making a living. Instead of being rattled from sleep by a screaming alarm clock (a totally unnatural way to awaken) to trudge to a corporate establishment, we rise with the sun. No longer exhausted from grueling days consumed indoors, my husband can devote boundless energy to designing and building all we need here, especially his favorite – human-powered devices for the self-reliant.

And I can grow food, sew, draw, write, delight in nature and volunteer at the local food producers’ co-op. Although not impossible, it was less fun to do such things when depleted from work, worry and driving. As crazy as it sounds, I found I had more money by not working. Having a job means buying clothes, gas and food, among other nonsense, away from home. Incidentally, the higher one’s income, the more damage done to the environment.

In his gutsy, concise book (only 106 pages), Un-Jobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook, Fogler explains how he pulled all the areas of his life into alignment with his personal values, living more simply and consciously. In a light-hearted style, he chronicles his journey in search of the ultimate fantasy job, a high-paying, full-time career “with benefits package and security.” Fogler’s frustrating pursuit led him in an entirely different direction – home, where his heart is, enjoying a non-job-dominated life.

Fogler and his wife left the work-a-day world as we did, a little at a time, until eventually becoming immersed in a fulfilling life without luxuries, but full of riches money cannot buy. Untangling from society’s expectations is not easy at first, as Fogler points out.

When I quit my final “guaranteed paycheck” in 2012, it felt unnatural as I had worked nearly seamlessly since the 1970s. I didn’t know what to call myself when meeting people. I wasn’t retired, laid off, unemployed or between jobs. I was simply no longer part of that accepted routine of what Fogler calls “the 9 to 5 to 65 merry-go-round.” In other words, most people in Western society accept and expect to work their lives away for an employer, and are bewildered when encountering those of us who choose not to. Even home-based entrepreneurs can fall into the trap of overwork, Fogler warns.

For years as a newspaper reporter and editor, I frequently woke in a panic at 3 a.m. dreaming that I had forgotten to turn in an extremely crucial writing assignment or to dress appropriately for an interview with the president. After only a few months of un-jobbing, however, those “pajamas in public” nightmares ended.

Perhaps because I am more aware of this lifestyle now, or maybe the Ozarks attracts us, I have met many others who piecemeal together incomes so they can live simply off the land. Many, like us, raise much of their own food, forsake frivolous amenities, barter with their neighbors and are mastering the art of repurposing. We live without air-conditioning, TV, cell phones and much of everything else modern society deems essential. But, as Fogler stresses, this is not a life of deprivation. Un-jobbing also does not include relying on government aid or charity. Instead, we focus on and build for ourselves what we truly want from life.

At a lavish wedding this summer, it made me smile to know I’d spent less than $4 on my glittery outfit at a non-profit thrift store. After the wedding, I donated the clothing back, where it will be sold again to support the local domestic violence shelter.

Ironically, a friend who still struggles with how to leave so-called job security passed the book to me on my way to the wedding. I read it on a Greyhound bus headed north. Before reaching Minnesota, I’d finished the book. Although I was already living the life Fogler described, the book affirmed my decision. I put down the book and gazed out the bus window at miles of commuters in stiff business suits, road construction workers hammering away at concrete and truckers entombed in their semis. Then there was the bus driver who never smiled once in 900 miles. I can’t say for certain, but I bet nearly all those folks preferred to be somewhere else, but do not know how to make the change.

Because this feeling is too good not to spread around, Fogler offers tools, ideas and suggestions on how and why to live such a life. MOTHER EARTH NEWS interviewed Fogler in April 2000 in How to Quit your Job, asking him what people should know about the process of extricating themselves from unfulfilling work.

“The biggest stumbling block is fear, no doubt about it,” Fogler said. “People are afraid, and while they might fully admit that they're not totally happy right now, the fear is that if they make a big change, it could be worse. And so they'd rather stick with what they know, even though it leaves a lot to be desired. They are afraid that accepting a different way of life will mean financial catastrophe.”

Fogler said there is no guarantee that quitting a job won’t mean financial ruin. In his experience, however, it doesn’t.

“I don't know if everything's going to be okay,” Fogler said he tells people in his career workshops. “But I know that if you don't make any moves, if you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always gotten."

Another great MOTHER EARTH NEWS article on the topic of living simply includes So You Want to Be a Farmer?

In March 2014, fellow MOTHER EARTH NEWS blogger Kyle Chandler-Isacksen explains in Six and a Half Money-Saving Tips how his family of four lives abundantly on about $6,500 per year on a half-acre in Reno, Nev., without electricity, a car or job.

“With this lifestyle comes time for hobbies and interests, time for being with our children and time with my wife, time for play and rest, great health and great food, time to do lots of service, and deeper connection to nature and to our friends and neighbors,” Chandler-Isacksen says. “It's been a great journey so far.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.

Photos by Linda Holliday

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