I had big dreams of self-sufficiency. Generating our own power with solar panels and a wind mill, catching rain water from the roof and have a deep well as a back-up, growing all of our vegetables and fruit on our own land, and keeping chickens for eggs and goats for cheese - and maybe a few animals for meat as well. And then we’d open the doors of our bed & breakfast, lest we would become hermits…
We moved to our little corner of heaven in Spain two and a half years ago, and now I’m not afraid to admit that we thought about it the wrong way.
Is it fun to live off the grid and not to get any bills for water or energy? Is there anything more delicious than veggies from our own garden with eggs from our own chickens on the side? Is it rewarding to wake up in the morning and to set about working on your own projects, day in day out? Of course, we wouldn’t trade all of this for anything else.
However, while plotting for this new life from the comfort of our city apartment in Amsterdam, we forgot one really big thing - the importance of community.
Where would we be without those few kind locals, mostly older farmers who told and showed us how things are done around here - how they prune and harvest their olives and almonds, how they grow their vegetables without water, why it’s important to be there at events and fiestas in the village. What would we do without our fellow adventurers and newcomers to the area, with whom we exchange information, barter produce from our land and home made things, organise permablitz mornings and spend time imagining ways to better work together to make said work lighter? Would we still be here without our fellow expatriates, who encourage us on a daily basis and where we always find a listening ear, just as they can know they can count on us if the need arises?
Moving here to be “self-sufficient”, we left friends and families behind. In the hustle and bustle of modern society, those words (“friend” and “family”) have lost a lot of their meaning; while we love them and cherish them, they become people we mostly see at parties, holidays and big life events (with the exception of a few). In a city, there is no real sense of community; while we may assemble at times for a cause or come together to celebrate, after that we all go back to our own little cocoon. Once, our sense of community was inspired by churches - organising care for sick people, companionship for the elderly, practical help for new parents or spiritual help for future newlyweds. However, the decline of religion in the modern world also meant the decline of community. Once, a family was a group of people you shared every moment of your life with; now, it’s the people you leave behind in the morning to go to school, work or other occupations - only to see each other again for a few hours before bedtime, if you’re lucky.
Living here on our lonely mountain with the stunning view of nothing but more mountains, we rediscover the true meaning of community. We are amazed that friends will enquire if we need anything when we call in sick. The welcome we get when we visit others (without having to schedule that visit weeks in advance) warms our hearts. Knowing who to call when we’re in need (whether it’s a grave need, or we just need to borrow a tool) eases our minds. And hoping we will be called upon (and up for the task) when their time comes to need help, gives our lives an added purpose.
We recognise the true meaning of family as well. We haven’t been blessed with children of our own, but from an observer’s point of view we see how the importance of planning (the right school, the choice of after school activities, the nannies and babysitters allowing the parents to perform their working and social activities) fades to allow for a more nurturing and inclusive environment that goes with this kind of lifestyle.
Last but not least, we’re more than grateful for the handful of faraway friends and family members who are always in our hearts; each letter, postcard, text message or picture we get sent from a faraway place is cause for much excitement and joy, each visit anticipated and celebrated in full.
In short, our journey towards a more self-sufficient life has opened our eyes to the importance of community in order to attain a certain level of self-sufficiency. Can total self-sufficiency be obtained without the support of a solid network? Of course it can - with hard work, sacrifice and the right mindset, many people have lived off the grid and outside of human civilisations since the beginning of mankind. However, community makes the journey towards self-sufficiency so much more enjoyable, the work so much lighter and our lives so much brighter.
Wherever you are on your journey to self-sufficiency, I truly hope you’ll find good friends on your way, like we did. I hope you will find their support priceless, their advice invaluable and their mere presence to make you feel like you’re standing on the shoulder of giants.
Dear Reader, I'd love for you to share something about your life - do you have a strong community around you, one that is stronger than the sum of its parts? Do you have good neighbours close by, or is this something you're struggling with? I'd love to hear more about how other people in other places see this!