Keeping it Real. Or: Why I make things myself.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…" ~ Thoreau

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Where I live it is not unusual to have friends in my circle who have chosen to have no grid power, no running water, no indoor plumbing. They are building their own homes and lives and livelihoods from scratch, out in the open air. I know which friends to call rather than email if I want a response in the next four weeks and I also know that it is unlikely that some of them will pick up when I do call as they are surely outside, working the land, tending animals, or otherwise living a full and realized existence with their families.

And it's funny. Because I have plumbing and high-speed internet and hot and cold running water and all the electricity I could ever want. Yet when looking at the more bare-bones, simple life of others I see something I rarely see around me in the slightly faster pace of (small) town living: a raw awakeness and deep satisfaction in the vital details of life.

I'm not misapplying a romantic notion that their life is easy and quaintly simple. Indeed, they are among the hardest working people I know. When I say awakeness I mean a constant presence in the day-to-day experience of life. Hauling water from the spring as the sun comes up sounds like hard work, but it seems almost spiritual compared to stumbling into the bathroom and turning the knobs on a hot shower. It leads to a deep appreciation of the minutia of our experience. I know that water I hauled I appreciate more deeply that the water that gushes effortlessly from my tap.

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And so while I live a comfortable life in town I strive to wake myself up and find deep satisfaction in the work of this life – mothering and keeping a home in particular. I sometimes get "how-do-you-do-it-all?" emails from people wondering how it is possible to make so much of my life by hand. But really, I'm doing very little compared with many of my closest friends. How I do it is by not having a traditional job. How I do it is by valuing process as much as product. How I do it is by almost never sitting down on my big squishy couch (except to read to my children) but instead moving throughout my day from task to task as I make my life.

Yes, there is a less involved way. Our society has taken the "easier path" to the extreme where we barely have to wake to our lives and we can serve food, care for our children, dress our family, and clean our homes with no efforting at all – just an outlay of dollars.

As for me, I won't buy frozen waffles, hire a housekeeper, or find a nanny. My kids are home with me, my dinner is from scratch, and for fun you'll find me sewing or knitting something for one of us to wear or pulling weeds in the garden. I say this not in judgement of you or others for the choices that you have made. Indeed, you and I are different people. My right answer and yours aren't meant to be alike. And I believe we each make the best choices in the moment for the life we have laid out before us. I make and do things from scratch because I love the journey from dirty to clean(ish) and back again, from grain, nut, and egg to breakfast, and from fabric to clothes. 

I have made the time for what matters most to me. I love the work of creating something wonderful from nothing, be it underwear sewn from discarded t-shirts, tea from nettles foraged in the country, or laundry hung to dry in the sun. This is the joy and work and pleasure my day.

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Sure, I could dry my laundry in the dryer. I have a really nice dryer, actually. It would be quicker. Easier. (And when it rains or when I'm spread too thin I do dry it in the dryer.) But carrying a basket of freshly laundered clothes up the stairs and mindfully hanging them in the sun brings me into awareness of my life. It wakes my soul. I get more pleasure from these simple acts than I ever could from watching a movie or television, surfing the internet, or going out to eat. It is the simple, humble fiber of living. It is my right answer.

I've been told before that my lifestyle choice is a luxury. Is it? Pete and I chose to cut our expenses and our income by 2/3 five years ago to make this leap of faith. This was not always how we lived. When Sage was a baby I bought store-bought baby food because I didn't believe I had the time or knowledge to make it myself. Whoa. How things change. (Lupine ate "baby food" off of my plate, chewed, mashed, or otherwise ground up for her. And we waited until she was nearly a year old before we started solids, so baby food was unnecessary on many levels.)

When Sage was three we woke up and questioned the treadmill and the many "unquestionable" choices we were making. We decided to be active rather than passive in the journey we were on and set a course to live our most together, authentic, hands-on life possible. And we've begun to do just that. It's part of why we live the life you see here, from crafting to gardening to homeschooling to foraging.

I believe that we can all have whatever we truly desire. I don't think everyone is ready for that message and if you are not it is okay. I don't mean to push you. But for those of you who believe it – chart a course. Start bit by bit by carving out time for the things you value. The things that wake up your spirit. You will reap immediate rewards – sheets that smell like fresh air or the sight of your boy in shorts you stitched yourself – and slowly you'll see this life transform. Do you belive me? Give it a shot. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

Love,
Rachel

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82 thoughts on “Keeping it Real. Or: Why I make things myself.

  1. KC says:

    Well said. I try to make as much as possible from scratch as well, from the desire to know I can do it. And as your post so wonderfully says it makes you closer to the things in your life and appreciate them so much more.

  2. Cassandra says:

    Wow…wow…thanks for writing such a personal account of your own truth. I have been burnt out of the 40hr a week treadmill for a few years now and would like to make a change. It’s so hard to give up the security of that life, but it is ironically a life that will slowly drain the life from your living. This post was very inspirational for me. Thanks again.

  3. Brooke says:

    I think you nailed it. So many of us take for granted the conveniences of life (myself included) we forget to notice life. Life just floats by and we grab it when it is convenient. We have started living since having children… Sometimes we use the dryer, sometimes we use disposables, sometimes we forget to recycle that box. BUT we tend to notice when we do and feel we aren’t being as true to ourself. Everyday we notice a little more… Life is so good!
    Thank you for being so honest and true.

  4. Stefanie says:

    I think the sentences above that resonates the most with me are “carrying a basket of freshly laundered clothes up the stairs and mindfully hanging them in the sun brings me into awareness of my life. It wakes my soul.” It is so true — no matter where we are on this personal (and it IS so personal) journey, having those mindful experiences and being AWARE of our life (and our choices) is the most important part. Thanks for that gentle reminder!

  5. Thefrogspond.wordpress.com says:

    It always seems that posts on your blog are so timely to my life. Just this morning, on the way to my one day of work outside the home in the summer, I was having an internal conversation with what I call the “3 personalities of me” and how the “who I want to be” needs to get back in charge and kick “lazy/tired me” and “resentful/tired me” back into their places. Thanks again for the gentle nudge and encouragement πŸ™‚

  6. Tori S. says:

    aha! Such is the circle of life’s joys…others in your community inspire you, and you inspire us. This is what I have been doing since I got laid off from my horrible job, and have had an autoimmune illness (thyroid issues), and have discovered I am gluten sensitive. My body (and always my soul) was screaming at me to follow this path, and slowly baby step by baby step, I am moving in that direction. When I look back, I’m proud of myself, and when I zoom in on some of my friends and how they live, I’m blown away by how far from the fast paced buy it all, processed, chemicalized world I’ve diverted from. The Universe has shown me this is the way I should go, and the rewards keep appearing. Lusa products was one of them, and little did I know that the real reward has been getting to know you and your family, and the inspiration your life gives me to create mine.

  7. Hannah says:

    Your post is a good reminder to create the kind of life you want no matter where you are. I live in town and sometimes feel like I’m missing out on those “country life” experiences that you describe in your friends, but there is still so much that we can do. I try to appreciate the conveniences of living in town that are really valuable, like being able to walk to the farmer’s market.

  8. Nightswimmer82 says:

    Your blog speaks my mind! Although you’re probably farther along in do-it-yourself-ing than me, I too love the feeling of things that are getting made by my hands. Often I feel a bit disappointed that I’m ready with that cake, dinner, piece of clothing, doll, etc etc. I love the journey, the process.
    I sometimes feel overwhelmed because I ‘want to do better’. But it’s like you say; just start and do it bit by bit. And when you’re used to one thing; pick up another! Wether it’s recycling, making food from scratch, making gifts or sewing your own clothing. I saw an inpiring documentairy about an American family who try to live their zero-waste lifestyle. I felt guilty on one hand; looking at my garbage heap, all be it nicely sorted out and recycled… it could be less! But it inspired me and gave me tips on how to reduce our own waste, just like your blog gives me tips on how to make things myself… I love it!!!
    Thanks and I hope to enjoy your blog for years to come!!

  9. Diana says:

    Oh I so appreciate your words. I am just beginning this journey as SAHM and to live a more self-sufficient and self-making life. My son turned 2 yesterday and his first year I stayed home but had always in mind that I will be working as a teacher and actually I started working then last August and gave my babe into daycare. It didn’t felt right. My heart was aching. I was away at work and saw my son 2 to 3 hours a day. Finally I came down again with very deep depression and I was ill for months and months until I made this huge decision that changed everything. I’m recovering now and my son is 5 hours a day in daycare but I will quit my job so that we both can stay home. In my environment, it is hard to do so because it is not very common (former GDR where every women worked outside the home). Well, we do so nonetheless and we are very very happy. I just love to be at home, to cook from scratch, to sew and to knit and to try to live frugal and self-sufficient. And the best thing: It helps me to recover from the depression.

    Why I am writing this? Well I don’t now but it feels right. Sorry for my poor english. I am trying my best. =)

    Greetings from Germany.

  10. Bel says:

    I am actually quite jealous of the life you live. I often sit and think about how I’d like for my own life with my daughter to take that journey. To be able to mother my child and create and make my own products from scratch etc. I may feel jealous, but you also help me to realize that it is a real possibility, but a true leap of faith to follow your gut and try to live your life the way you want to live it. I could live without my TV, my dryer, etc. I have before. Thank you for sharing this post. People like you are the inspiration that people like myself find motivation in to try to stay linked in to their own self and the way I want my life to be. Keep up the great work!

  11. Marian says:

    Thank you for such an inspirational post! It’s really a reminder of how much we can do without. I completely agree that it’s so much easier to get in touch with the now when we are doing the whole process rather than just pushing buttons. I am, like several others, early in the process of becoming more self sufficient…but it is a satisfying journey!

  12. Danielle Grabiel says:

    I could not agree more. It’s all about choices. We are making some big choices and changes too in the coming months and I do feel like they are born of sacrifice, savings, prioritization, and a lot of faith…not necessarily for the reasons a lot of people think.

    However, it is important to acknowledge that good health, a loving partner (imagine doing it as a single mom, not impossible, but wow), supportive family and even basic things like education, the ability to think independently and have faith in oneself underlie these opportunities. And for those things I am incredibly grateful.

  13. Jamie says:

    Beautiful article! I have been planning an article similar to this in my head, but you have said it much more eloquently then I ever could, so instead I will share your article with others and am so happy to have discovered your blog:)

  14. Mikaela says:

    Ahhh, this is why I SO love your blog! From handmade zippered pouches to a call to awakened living in two days’ time. You even manage to weave the two together by reminding us that we can derive meaning from doing the things we love, and learn to love the things that need doing. Thanks for your powerful words.

  15. Lina says:

    What a wonderful post, really! I do have a housekeeper from monday to friday, I do have a nanny three days of the week and we have this type of life because that is how its supposed to be for us, let’s say it comes our way, destiny, a lucky star maybe. I don’t have to work so I get to hag with my girl all day long, but even though we can afford this type of life we are so tired of consuming so much, of owning so much we are downsizing because honestly we are tired and overwhelmed. We recently moved from a really big penthouse to a big flat and we got rid of so many things, bags and bags of toys that where given to my daughter at birth and tons of clothing that we bought at some point of our life, I got rid of three big size bags of lotions and soaps and hair products..when the only thing we need is calendula soap from LuSa and some shampoo. It has been the most wonderful journey, the most liberating, but as you say to each it’s own path. I felt bad that I couldn’t go all the way, but I read once: Live simply: what ever that means to you. And so I do, still owning my life and my cultural background and the life I was born into and chose to live, but more simply in my own terms and it feels so good! So when I read a post like this I don not feel bad, I feel lucky for having a lucky star and for conscience. Oh and thanks for the tutorial I made that pouch for fathers day, in fact a pencil case for my husband who is such a big fan of handmade! Cheers!

  16. anna ritter says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post! It gave me goosebumps reading it, it so much reflects my believes and dreams. And your inspirational blog helps me to move closer towards living the dream πŸ™‚

  17. Rachel Wolf says:

    Lina, In some ways yours was the comment I was waiting for today. Someone who has chosen a very different path to mine, yet one that is authentically their own. Thank you for sharing your words and for reading this post form the perspective that I wrote it – one of our personal journey towards our most authentic life.
    Peace, Rachel

  18. kendra says:

    keep it coming rachel! this touched me especially today too. i am called to live more authentically, closer to the earth (LAND), but i am also wanting to ‘bloom where i am planted’ in the right now (city).

  19. Katie says:

    Not only is your post beautiful in its truth, but it has inspired many wonderful conversations today with family and friends. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Your words will remain with me for quite awhile.

  20. Emily says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my life vs. the life I want. There are some big changes coming in order to make them the same thing. Starting with: get off the couch.

  21. Cheryl says:

    Tori, is it Hashi’s? That’s where I’m at.

    btw, Thank you Rachel. This was just what I needed to read today. I have been struggling with the desire to pull my three year old out of PT daycare and the question of how I will still be able to fulfill my business obligations. You pushed me over the edge, we’ll make it work somehow.

  22. S and family says:

    I’m just stopping by, following a link from the blog “webloomhere”. This post really caught my attention. Your words sum up so much of what my husband and I feel. Sometimes we feel alienated by people we know who question why we raise chickens or bees; “eggs and honey are so much cheaper to just go buy”. We find reward in the process, and it goes so much deeper than that. I thank you for wording it so well in this post. I’m going to bookmark this and read it again when I need a lift.

  23. Sarah G. says:

    That’s a beautiful post. We all live at different points on our personal scale-of-handmade-life…I often beat myself up because of my “normal American” life (which finances the wicked expensive meds that keep my body going), often forgetting to honor the things that I can and do make myself, literally and figuratively. Yummy date balls, tatting, passing good books off to kids, encouraging their parents to loosen up on reading level obsessions and let them read what they’re interested in… I always come here to bask in lovely words and thought provoking posts. Thanks for keeping them coming!

  24. Rachel Wolf says:

    Im glad the post had a strong impact on you and spoke your truth. Come back again, and keep giving those bees and chickens your love. They feed you on so many levels.
    ~ Rachel

  25. Danielle says:

    Really well said.

    I struggle with some of these things as well, deciding where we are on our journey as a family and where we want to go. Right now we are in the middle of a giant city with my husband working a regular job. I do so much at home – cooking, sewing, making, raising my boys – I often wonder if somewhere else wouldn’t be better for us. Somewhere smaller. Somewhere where we can have chickens. Somewhere else…

    But then I realize that while I may not fit into this city as well as I would like, where I often get looked at like I have three heads, I also realize that this city, this place suits us. I love the dynamic nature. I love that we can rely on our own bodies for all the day-to-day transport we need. I love that it is so vibrant. So what if my kids are the only ones wearing handmade shorts, that we make pizza at home from scratch instead of ordering delivery. We are who we are, no matter where that may be.

  26. betsy says:

    I love this post, Rachel. And while I admire your individual life choices, what I love the most about this post is your ability to share your choices and encourage people to think and question while also being completely respectful of everyone’s different life choices and *where* they are on their own journeys. That is such a gift to the women who read your blog and who judge themselves by other people’s standards rather than their own.

    While I know I’ll never live off the grid with an outhouse, I admire people who do. And I’m happy with the changes and choices we make for our family every day whether it be choosing to continue to homeschool, hanging the laundry on the line, or buying only from the organic farmers (or not) at the market even when our budget is really tight. Thank you for being so accepting and supportive of everyone. xx

  27. Rachel Wolf says:

    Betsy,
    If you were standing here I would hug you. Thanks for the best comment ever. πŸ™‚ I want to print it out and hang it up on my wall. Thats my gig I guess. That we are each on our perfect journey for our own experience. Were all growing and stretching and doing it just right. Thank you for hearing that in my words.

    Sometimes our own self-judgement clouds our eyes and we judge ourselves through the words of others. I sometimes worry that I may come across that way.

    Peace and blessings,
    Rachel

  28. Jeanine says:

    I just love it when I stumble into a new blog and immediately feel a sense of oneness.
    I subscribed to Clean via reader a few weeks ago and have been feeling dreadfully behind. Because at first glance I knew I’d probably like it here…but I needed to peruse the posts to get a feeling for it. And the post count kept getting larger and yet I wasn’t making the time to figure out if it was a keeper or not. And finally tonight was the night. Your honey-strawberry jam I think originally caught my eye. It is jam making season after all. And I have four tabs open now to leave comments…if my internet doesn’t give out. And once again I have that feeling that thank goodness there are other people out there who share similar ideas on quality of life, organics, environmentalism through daily living, unschooling.
    So, thank you and I’ll be visiting now that I’ve found you. πŸ™‚ Cheers!
    So, thank you for this wonderful blog and for my finding it now. So much great info. And now I’m

  29. stephka says:

    Those are just wonderful and so-very-true words. my familiy is on the same path as yours, so i can deeply understand what you describe.
    what really touches me those days is the following sentence “Indeed, you and I are different people. My right answer and yours aren’t meant to be alike. And I believe we each make the best choices in the moment for the life we have laid out before us.”. thank you for that. i had something what i thought was a friendship but i could not tolerate her chosen livestyle of money and work. this is something i still have to learn.
    thank you so much for your words!!!

  30. Rachel Wolf says:

    Stephka,
    Thanks for your note. I still believe what I said strongly, but there is also something to be said for surrounding yourself with kindred spirits. There is nothing wrong with finding your people.

    Peace,

    Rachel

  31. Meg says:

    Just wanted to leave a comment, not sure if you’re still tracking old posts, but anyhoo!

    Thank you for mentioning “unquestionable choices”. I have so many people in my life questioning my priorities and true desire for the simple life, who think that they themselves have only the bare necessities, how could I possibly live with less, or bother to make my own such-and-such? I think it’s important that we teach these people, through our example, to question their “unquestionable” choices.

    Cheers!

  32. Catherine says:

    Thank you Rachel. I know this is an old post, but I just started following your blog recently. I truly enjoy it and needed to read this today. We’re on the precipice of making some bigger changes and honestly, it feels so overwhelming and “I don’t know if I can do it”… xx your blog is great and very inspiring.

  33. Rachel Wolf says:

    Things will fall perfectly into place. Sometimes they wont feel perfect, but you are always on your path heading right where you were meant to go. Congratulations on making your own leaps.

  34. Bronwyn says:

    Dear Rachel,
    I know this is an old post, but I just stumbled upon it. I have been feeling more and more of a tug to go in this direction – to suck the marrow of life. I think having kids is the turning point. They make me realize what is important and how little time I have to enjoy those things.
    I want to make the leap, but don’t know how. Please excuse the personal nature of this question, but how did you and Pete do it? I mean, how did you cut your expenses and income by 2/3? Please don’t answer if you feel the question is too intrusive, but this is the bit I can’t get a handle on in making my own leap… Do I need to draw up a detailed budget, track our spending over a few months to see where our money goes? I don’t know how to do this part…
    Your thoughts appreciated.
    Bronwyn

  35. Rachel Wolf says:

    Hi Browyn,
    Thanks for your note. It isnt a quick and easy answer, but the short story is that we made some major lifestyle changes. We sold our lovely house on 23 acres and bought an old house in town. We stopped driving (mostly). We stopped eating out. We chose to radically limit buying – even second hand.

    Because of my personality, a detailed budget wouldnt work for me. I didnt want to know the minutia. I just wanted to feel it and know it would work and leap. So we did. I have a friend who did something similar but with lots and lots of number crunching. Because that works for her.

    I hope this answers your question adequately!

    Blessings,
    Rachel

  36. Bronwyn says:

    Thanks for your reply Rachel. It is good to know it is possible. You’ve given me some hope. We may have to do the number crunching for my husband… it would be great to make the leap! I’m ready!

  37. smcdath@yahoo.com says:

    Hi Rachel, I come here every morning hoping to see you. I love your blog! Anyway….I started on your path several years back, just as a hobby. Now, with the economy, and my husband no longer working, it’s become a necessity. Thank God, I was already well on my way! The one thing I’ve noticed is that we are lacking NOTHING! There is so much more joy in making do and doing it yourself. What little t.v. that is on here is tedious to watch, and I no longer have interest. I have a disabled uncle in the house and that’s the only reason there is a t.v. here. A book, a craft….so much better. It takes a little time to get the hang of it, but so worth it. Sure wish I had started when my kiddo’s were still living at home. But, that’s ok, the little ones in the neighborhood all come here for their imagination supplies. I’m blessed.

    Sandy

  38. smcdath@yahoo.com says:

    Meg, just smile politely, and tell them how nice they look. People are afraid of you if you look or act different. Once you open your mouth, you show them that you are just the same as them.

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