October 21, 2013

The Grand Dream, Part I

Our marriage as a cornerstone

Shortly after Nathan and I married in 2010 we started our lives as many young couples do- nearly broke and working apart from each other for most of the day as we jumped through the hoops at entry-level jobs. Nathan was working odd jobs with a restoration contractor and I was serving a year in AmeriCorps. We laugh now to look back. We lived on less than $15,000 that year (and we didn't know many tricks for frugal living yet). Thank goodness our parents were willing to help us out during those months when we were a little short on rent!
Our marriage is the foundation that we build our dreams and our goals on.
From the beginning, I realized that Nathan and I were taking a different approach to many of the other young people in our generation (especially where we live in Portland, OR). As many studies and journalists (such as this one from the Atlantic) have reported, more and more people are delaying marriage until they have completed their education and established their career. It has been described as a shift from viewing marriage as a cornerstone to a capstone.

Perhaps Nathan, and I are just old fashioned, or perhaps we just don't mind doing things our own way, but we view our marriage much more as a cornerstone than a capstone. It is the foundation that we build our dreams and our goals on. I am very grateful for that first year. In it we not only began to build the foundation for our marriage, but for what we wanted our life together to look like.

Tired of the status quo!

Before long we knew that we weren't satisfied with the status quo! We knew that we were happiest when we were together or with our families. We knew that we enjoyed the simple things in life, and that we were content living with very little money. We knew that when we had children we both wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. (Because as everyone always tells you…they grow up so fast!) We knew that spending the majority of our lives working apart from each other and half-way across the country from our families wasn't what we wanted. We knew that we didn't want to spend 40+ years working in separate careers, so that we could retire one day after our children had grown up and our parents had passed away. We knew that we only had this one life, and we wanted to live it in a way that was meaningful!

That is not to say that you can't have a fulfilling career and family life, but for us we wanted a life that integrated all of our values: nurturing family, community, and the natural world.

During that first year we began to think about alternative ways to live our lives. I really started to realize that other paths were possible after I read the book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. The "college degree → graduate degree → career-→ marriage → house → children → buy lots of stuff → retire" model held less and less appeal. For awhile we thought that maybe we would start a small family farm. We both loved being outside, I loved to garden, and we weren't afraid of hard work. For awhile we convinced ourselves that that life would be great…until we thought about the stress of dealing with pests, weather, and other factors beyond our control.
Picking up some useful skills. Making my first batch of jelly!)
But we kept dreaming, and the idea of a simple life, producing our own food and running a small business (or two) was still appealing. During those first years we began to pick-up skills that helped us to live more frugally and sustainably (from making yogurt and bread to deodorant and homemade dishwasher detergent). We spent almost 2 years in two different rental houses gardening, learning, and dreaming. Both having grown up in rural communities we began to dream of escaping the city. We began randomly visiting regions that we thought might be nice to move to one day, and we started saving a little money to make this dream come true. But throughout this time we hadn't really formed an articulated plan.

The plan materializes

I think that our plans began to crystallize after we read two books: The New Sunset Western Garden Book and Mortgage Free!: Innovative Strategies for Debt-Free Home Ownership.After looking through the Sunset climate maps Nathan and I began to write down lists of qualities that we would like in a new home (decently long growing seasons, good libraries, etc.). Then we used the climate maps to start compiling a list of possible communities and we spent quite a bit of time researching them.  Soon we started taking trips to visit these places. Before long we began narrowing down the list to a few possible communities. (Nathan will be writing more on our search for a new home community soon!)
A beautiful landscape from our most recent visit to one of our possible new home communities.
Can anyone guess where this was taken?
Then after I read Mortage Free, I began to get a clearer picture of one possibility for our future and how we could get there. Our big goal became to save enough money to buy some land and build a home and infrastructure without a mortgage. Without a mortgage, and with enough land to grow most of our food and to provide many of our basic needs we hope to eventually be able to live full-time on our little homestead with only income from a few diversified small business ventures (rather than relying solely on farming). We now dream of a future where we spend our time taking care of our family, the land, and giving back to the community. (Oh…and we are trying to convince our parents that the homestead would be a nice place for them to retire…)

Making the dream a reality

As soon as this dream became the goal, I sat down to crunch the numbers and realized that for this dream to become a reality anytime soon, we would need to cut down on our living expenses and start saving quite a bit more. We started to take steps to start saving in earnest. The biggest change included leaving our rented home and moving into an apartment complex…but the best part was that this apartment was part of the Kailash Ecovillage. Not only are we now saving quite a bit of money on rent and utilities, but we are living in a wonderful community where we can continue to garden and learn additional skills.
Our new home: Kailash Ecovillage!
In the coming days and weeks I will write about what steps we are taking to make this dream come true!

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