The Be the Change Project’s Top Tips for Regenerative Living, Part 5: Voluntary Poverty

Reader Contribution by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen and Be The Change Project
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Photo by Peter Grubb

Voluntary Poverty paradoxically has provided us with more time for hobbies and travel: backpacking with the kids and nephew in the Sierras

Number 5 in our series for tips to live more regeneratively.  Climate change bad, regenerative living good!

The word “regeneration” means to be born again or to make over and it stems from the word “genesis” which means origin or when something came into existence.  And “Genesis” (big “G”) is the first book of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible which describes how God made the world. So, if you’re Jewish or Christian maybe trying to live regeneratively is doing God’s work.  Or rehabilitating God’s original work.  Or something like that.  Anyway, it’s good work worth doing.  

We’ve chosen to live in voluntary poverty not because of religious or spiritual calling per se but as another way of putting connection over consumption, of health (big picture) before wealth, simplicity with service, passions…(what’s a word that starts with “p”?), blah, blah, blah.  I wrote about this in a previous Mother blog article and got some great responses.  I don’t want to repeat myself here in my new “Top Tips…” series so check out that piece for the whole picture.  I’ve tried to distill this article to the basics while offering some new insights.

Here are the details:

Our family of four has lived on between $6,000 and $14,000 over the last 8 or 9 years  
It was a several-year journey to get there which started with job-sharing
We fundraised/crowdsourced to buy our home with help from over 200 supporters.  It cost $40K, was a complete wreck, and we bought it at the bottom of the market
We pay forward their investment in us through community, enviro, and social justice work. Their support has been the wind beneath our wings.
We have few bills (and no electric or oil) and property taxes are low in Reno (like $400/year for us)
We grow lots of food, volunteer for most of the rest
We earn money through a mix of work for our nonprofit, natural building, writing, teaching, construction
We share with friends and neighbors: stuff, time, knowledge…that creates circles of connection, friendship and caring
We get Medicaid (see my blog on health) but also work hard to stay healthy and create healthy communities
We buy used or salvage & upcycle resources before buying new (or “ScAvenge!” as I like to call it)
Our kids are our biggest single expense – camps, classes, sports, activities, music lessons…
It’s challenging, fun, inspires creativity, requires a lot of time at home/on our land
It paradoxically provides us with lots of free time (be it weekly or seasonal) to pursue our interests
We’ve learned so many new skills from candle-making to rabbit-raising, canning to dehydrating that have connected us with more people, our food, our land
Money’s not evil, just another tool we get to choose how to use

It’s not a choice that went over well with my mom who described my lifestyle as pathetic and pauper-ish.  That stung a bit but heck, trying to live in alignment with one’s values is not always a cake-walk (and we’re good, now). I get where she’s coming from, too; she wants the best for me and her family worked hard to get their part of the American Dream.  There’s nothing wrong with that except that now we know that how we’ve done the American Dream is destroying life as we know it.  Can we take the good and leave the bad while moving forward with love, wisdom, and compassion?  That’s the work of our time.  

Here are my tips for getting to voluntary poverty:

1. Read the book, Your Money or Your Life. This will help you prioritize your stuff, jobbing, and time.

2. Take small steps regularly; risks and leaps when you’re able.  This might be giving up a car, downsizing significantly into a smaller living space, finding opportunities for sharing, getting creative with jobbing…

3. Think contextually to make these bigger changes: in other words what changes can occur at the systems levels (water, heat, food…) or in your environment that strike more deeply at habits and have greater impact.

4. Find guides, people here now and from the past.  Put your life into the context of history – who’s done it before (sages, mystics, faith traditions, back-to-the-landers…), what was their story, how does it resonate with what you’re doing?  

People will be intrigued by what you’re doing and why so…

5. Craft your story and be able to share it powerfully.  Stories impact people more than information and, guess what, lead to more connection and opportunities for regenerative living.

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