On Jan. 1, 2007, Brad and Jenn made a New Year’s resolution that would change their lives. They decided to see how hard it would be to remove themselves from the consumer rat-race by not buying any new non-consumables for an entire year. Turns out it was easy. Surprisingly easy.
When that year was up, they quickly realized they didn’t want to go back to their old way of life. So they decided to continue The Pact, as they called it, with breaks in May and November to pick up the things they truly needed. As strange as it sounds, instead of feeling denied, they felt freed. No more wasting time looking at catalogs and ads. No running into Target for “just one thing” and coming out with a huge bag of stuff, wondering how they spent $50. They had more time, more money, and more peace of mind.
It wasn’t long before they began searching for other ways they could tread lightly but happily on the Earth. Being a couple of foodies, they looked for fresh, local produce and found a CSA that far outshone anything they could buy in a grocery store. Recycling became a game, with the winner generating zero trash. Before long, they were growing their own vegetables and canning produce for the winter. All the while, their life was more satisfying, and their financial independence was becoming more certain.
Jenn and Brad document their adventures on a website called The Dew Abides.
What is most difficult about a sustainable lifestyle?
Jenn: It can be a hassle. A couple of years ago, we came home from vacation, exhausted and delirious with jetlag, only to find out the extra 50 pounds of tomatoes we’d been waiting for finally ripened at our friends’ farm while we were gone. If we wanted tomatoes that winter, we had no choice but to pick them up and can them that day before they rotted. After bashing our heads in the wall a couple of times, we decided that a six month supply of good meals was worth one miserable, ten-hour day in the kitchen — and it was. There are a lot of moments like that, where we push through temporary inconveniences for a greater reward.
Brad: I think Jenn’s answer is No. 1. But as someone who’s still in the workforce, even as we move closer and closer to self-sufficiency and a true homestead, I get frustrated about sustainability challenges at the job with coworkers. Many of them will just grab a bottle of water from the fridge rather than drink the filtered water from the fridge door in a glass. Or they rely too much on the printer instead of the monitor screen. Or they use a paper plate or paper towel instead of the stoneware that’s in the cabinet. It’s a small office, which is not the place to pick fights. They’re all good people. I love ’em. So I try to lead by example and gently nudge people from the Dark Side while plotting bigger moves, like, say, convincing the office to trade all those bottles for a big water-cooler jug, which would at least shave off a good deal of the plastic consumption.
What is your philosophy of failure?
Jenn: Unless you’re a brain surgeon or the chairman of Goldman Sachs, whatever the failure, it probably isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. When a failure looms large in my mind, I try to remember that it won’t define me and that others will only give it a passing thought. So I try to give it the same bearing: experience it, learn from it, and then move on.
Brad: “Probably isn’t that big a deal” may be overstated. I’ll remind Jenn about buying a house whose detached roof pushed out an entire exterior wall. That structural failure was a pretty big deal. We still haven’t finished renovating the house. That said, that specific failure produced an opportunity for us. It was the reason the house’s owner was willing to unload it for next to nothing. And, as God is our witness, that house will one day provide an income stream for us.
What is the biggest mistake you have made as a proponent of sustainable living?
Jenn: Overwhelming the reader. It’s easy to spit out a list, for example, of 15 ways to lower your food’s carbon footprint. But that’s the worst thing we could do. Most folks want to do the right thing but are running ragged and making the best decisions they can, so big, immediate changes just aren’t an option. Real change happens incrementally, so we try to focus on one small takeaway in each blog post.
Brad: And over-committing ourselves at the start. There were so many opportunities we wanted to strike at. It took us a couple of years to figure out that picking a target or two at a time was the way of finishing this marathon.
What is the biggest mistake you have made as a person? (one for each of you?)
Jenn: I had a pretty high-profile job I loved as an environmental scientist with a river protection group. As a vocal proponent of women in the workplace and, in particular, women in science, I felt like I let a lot of people down when I quit to care for my parents full time. It was a no-win situation, but I made the only decision I could that let me sleep at night. The good thing that came out of it, though, was that it put to the test all of our talk about a higher quality of life through minimal living. We found freedom and satisfaction we couldn’t have imagined when we started down this path ten years ago.
Brad: Thinking I knew anything about music. I came to Columbus, Ga., aspiring to be a music writer for the local paper, because I liked music. Well, the more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. And spending all my time writing band profiles and going to see shows because I felt like I *had* to just about destroyed my ability to enjoy music. A few years after I left newspapers, that joy started to come back. I guess the larger lesson goes back to the same thing: Make changes gradually, or risk burnout. When I stopped enjoying music, man, that was like losing one of my senses. Scary.
What is your best failure story?
Jenn: That ten-hour day in the kitchen, canning beautiful, locally grown, organic tomatoes? Yeah, we totally ordered pizza after that.
Brad: Funny, though: I don’t even remember what was on the pizza. But I’ll never forget what those orange, green and red heirloom tomatoes looked like in the jar.