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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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12/9/2016 12:22:47 AM

You do realize that the powers that be who depend on the masses being enslaved by mindless consumption will not let this type of self sufficient lifestyle become the norm don't you? It's for a privileged few who can afford to buy land. Most cities deny people any type of self sufficiency. It's warm and fuzzy but the north American economy depends on millions of mindless slaves.

12/9/2016 12:14:40 AM

You do realize that the powers that be who depend on the masses being enslaved by mindless consumption will not let this type of self sufficient lifestyle become the norm don't you? It's for a privileged few who can afford to buy land. Most cities deny people any type of self sufficiency. It's warm and fuzzy but the north American economy depends on millions of mindless slaves.

5/31/2015 8:43:40 AM

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3/22/2015 9:00:16 AM

Where is the info on HOW TO? This is story on a day in your life NOT HOW TO. (Give us info on HOW TO, not false advertisement/titles. Like how in the world do you buy your land when the people you babysit(nanny) for refuse to pay you & you buy all the food for their 4 children & when you grow a garden to save money(& buy everything for it& all savings now gone/stollen), & the dad destroys the garden. & you can't leave cause your purse, what little money I had left, iD, Ss card, birth certificate, etc./everything has been stolen from you so you'll have stay. (& it's 24/7 no freaking break, the dad & children come in repeatedly (past 2am) while your sleeping and shine flashlight in your eyes till you wake up.)

1/12/2015 3:03:55 PM

The living off the land is wholesome, not all glamorous but more empowering. You learn skills you did not know you have to survive and take basics as if they were luxuries.

12/17/2014 8:32:06 AM

Dear c1643621, I agree with some of what you said in your post. I am annoyed at times by those that seem to think they invented the "living without a job" life style. It used to be called being unemployed. When my husband and I started out, we had low paying jobs and were fortunate enough to turn a small down payment into a homestead that produced much of our food. We managed our woodland area so that we could heat exclusively with wood and built an attached greenhouse to supplement our heat. But I would never say we were self sufficient. That is a seldom achieved goal. Later, we got better jobs, but still kept up the garden. I have a great deal of respect for anyone that works hard at any job to provide for their family. Now that I am retiring, I hope to return to producing as much of our food as possible. I thought that this article and the book cited would give me ideas about something I could do to earn a little cash to pay for those things that we cannot supply ourselves. Unfortunately, no such information is presented. My point is that you should be careful about making assumptions that anyone attempting to be a little more self-sufficient is "just another misguided greeny, extremely ego-centric, narrow minded and - on the top of it all - arrogant." Many of us are just trying to make-do with less money and find that living in the country and meeting as many of our needs as possible is an enjoyable way of life.

12/16/2014 12:27:22 PM

Oh, I see in comments a neighbor repairs engines? Who makes the engines?

12/16/2014 12:26:00 PM

Dear Linda and other Mother Earth News readers. I am not a regular reader of yours but one of your proudly sent me this article. All very nice. With the exemption of a few thoughts that have gone missing in the process of un-jobbing. First set of thoughts are these. In order to buy a glittery dress from a drift shop: 1) somebody needs to make the dress (and somebody needs to grow or make the raw material for fabric and glitter and somebody needs to make the raw material into an usable fabric) 2) somebody needs to transport the dress to sellers 3) somebody needs to buy the dress full price to cover the maker's, transporter's and sellers expenses - and needs money for that. 4) the drift store too needs a place to operate in - owned or rented. Secondly, in order to read a book while traveling comfortably in a bus: 1) somebody needs to write the book 2) somebody needs to print the book (and I am not going to even count people who make paper and ink) 3) somebody needs to transport the book to the seller where your friend can buy the book 4) your friends needs money to buy the book 4) somebody needs to make and service and sell and buy the bus - and they need money to buy the bus 5) somebody needs to drive the bus and they are not doing it for free Thirdly, all those people need to eat and wear clothes and have a roof above their heads and use tools (which all somebody needs to make) and … The main point that has sadly gone missing in this story is that by not giving anything back to the community and society by being allegedly 'self-sufficient' (no, you are not self-sufficient if you need BUY a dress and to use a bus! Grow your dress, make your fabric & glitter from scratch, then sew (you say you can sew. Do you use sewing machine? Or needles? Who made the needles you are using?) and walk, then I may believe you more) - is that … … all those people toiling away from 9 to 5 to 65 are actually enabling you to read a book on a bus and to wear anything at all! THEY are the heroes. They make your sewing needles and recycled paper for your book and run the drift shop where you can get the glittery dress. THEY are the ones who support the society where doctors can specialize making antibiotics (which you probably hate and swear you never use such things … until your own child has a life threatening infection. Then your opinion changes, I'm sure - only as long as to make sure the offspring survives) The 9 to 5 people are the heroes who are daily giving back hard work and yes, often pay with their own peace of mind having to allow the human society to continue. Not you, you are giving nothing, selfishly thinking You are better than Them because You cleverly Got Away from the toil … you are just another misguided greeny, extremely ego-centric, narrow minded and - on the top of it all - arrogant. Honestly, some respect to the 9 to 5 society which allows you and your kind to be leisurely float in your 'self-sufficiency' delusion would be in place...

12/4/2014 3:26:16 PM

Responding to concerns of how exactly to make a living without a "job" away from home, this is what we and our neighbors have done: Find a need you can fill (either a product or service). In our case, it happened to be making water well buckets, simply because we needed one and couldn't find one to buy. That has expanded into other products we design and build for off-grid or self-reliant folks. A neighbor raises a few cattle and repairs small engines. Another makes soaps and lotions with goat milk (while homeschooling 8 children). These are but a few examples. Everyone's talents and communities are unique. Find your niche, one you are passionate about. Keep in mind that creating billion-dollar enterprises is not the goal. The idea is to do what you love, earning enough to live happily at home.

12/4/2014 12:14:04 PM

title and content do not match.

12/4/2014 12:11:15 PM

I agree with holler19.

12/4/2014 8:52:58 AM

I agree with the other homeschooling mom, the article only told us what they do without. NOT how to earn a living while leaving the main stream rat race. I have a mom who lives with us. The home schoolers are now teenagers and thankfully my mother was willing to retire from nearly 50 years of school teaching to move in; and home school my children. Yet, this article did not tell us {who are not article writers for a living} how to make money. Please run an article that will help those of us in the $30,000 or less a year bracket.

12/4/2014 8:28:35 AM

Lots of lip service, but nothing that actually relates to the article title. For those of us that are already "doing without" for the sake of not having to have a "regular job", this article offered nothing in the way of how to "earn an income". Only on how to get by on less, by being more self sufficient! HELLO....there are herds of us out here already living that life. Welcome to the world of the "Homeschooling, gardening,farming,sewing,from scratch MOM"!!

12/3/2014 5:14:48 PM

Great article and we want this very much but what if you don't have the money or the credit to purchase a property somewhere. When you rent you are very restricted on what you can and can't do on their property. We want to garden, build a growing dome, keep bees and he requires a workshop to continue building his projects.

12/3/2014 4:26:56 PM

I hate my job after 25 years.I have been striving for the day when I can comfortably finish leaving the rats and the race.In 5.5 years the mortgage will be paid, but one of our neighbors was already fined over $1000.00 for his solar electric panels.The local electric company sent the police out to unhook his meter {he was paying around $25.00 A month.}They claimed he was stealing. Now this upsets me, because they might decide,because I do not have AC and open the windows My family might be next. Hopefully our government will become more open minded to saving Earth and using her natural resource by the time I bail out of the race.

12/3/2014 12:35:31 PM

I enjoyed the idea of the article, but there is little substance. As a person who bought the first edition of Mother Earth when it came out and followed the homesteader life style for many years, I am anxious to get back to it next year after I retire. So I wanted to read the Fogler book and clicked on the link to buy it. Unfortunately, it is out of print and only available in an ebook format. Fine, but since I prefer real books and do not have a Kindle or Nook, I guess I'm out of luck. Why publish an article based almost entirely on a book that true off-the-grid, back to the basics people can't read?

11/18/2014 4:08:40 PM

Great article! This is the life that we're working toward. :)