So recently, Dan and I met someone who is very inquisitive, like I am. 🙂 I was delighted and when she said, after asking a question about money, “That’s pretty personal, I know.” I assured her that we were open to answering anything we could for her. I believe my exact words were, “I’d probably even tell you about how we have sex if you pressed me.” Which, of course is perhaps the ultimate for some people and, unfortunately, brings up bad visuals… Uh, sorry about that.
Anyway, we were discussing the whole idea of retiring from the rat race and living more simply. Of finding a way to get more freedom while avoiding poverty and homelessness. A big part of the freedom is not working our lives away, not working for “the man” in the crazy hamster wheel of work-buy-store-get a bigger place to store more stuff-American Dream. But don’t we need to do something to avoid poverty and homelessness? Somehow, we need to have enough income to survive. Scratch that. We need to have enough to survive. [More on this later…]
So she was pressing us on how much we work each week. “Like is it less than 20 hours a week?” We really struggled with answering this for a number of reasons. One is that we don’t have a regular schedule in any sense of the word. Most every week is a new schedule. Some weeks we are traveling, some we are doing a lot of homebody stuff, some weeks we spend one day at the farm, some weeks, multiple days. Another reason is that we don’t have regular X-hour-a-week jobs. We don’t have a regular schedule of “work”. Even working at the farm is sometimes Monday, sometimes Friday, sometimes a full day, sometimes an afternoon following a trip to town. I write for the paper occasionally – but that is very intermittent. I believe I’ve written about a half dozen articles in the last year or so. So it’s unsubstantial.
And when I mentioned that I spend a lot of time writing, especially with my blog, she was like, “But that’s not really work, right? That’s more about personal development.” At the time I tried to justify the blog writing because it’s kind of like independent journalism when I’m reporting on the PUC or Line 3. And what about regular writers? Is the time they spend writing only work when it’s going to be included in a published work? And now that I think of it, I realize, why wouldn’t my blog writing be considered work? Is “work” only what we do outside the realm of our self? Or is literally almost everything we do “work”?
And that’s when I realized that a bigger part of the trouble answering the “how many hours do you work a week” question is that it’s hard to define “work”. Much of what we do is work – laundry, cooking, cleaning, even going to the bathroom – it’s all about getting something needed completed. But I think the feeling about the word “work” in American society is more about “what do you do for money?” or “what do you do that you don’t like to do?”. Is “work” what we do to make ends meet? I asked a friend recently and he said, “Work is what you have to do to make a living.” So, I said, “Well, you have to wash laundry, cook meals, and do dishes.” And he countered with, “No you don’t.” And, of course, he is right. You could have other people do your laundry, only use paper plates and plastic sporks, only eat at restaurants. But, I guess those just aren’t options I want to consider – they seem so much more expensive and wasteful anyway.
So if I think about a recent week, I spent 6 hours at the Farm, 2 hours canning raspberries, 12 hours attending a Day of Resistance where I spent probably 3-4 hours doing helpful work, and 16 hours driving to and supporting an Honor the Earth Fundraiser concert, which entailed about 8 hours of real work and a lot of networking and enjoying the music. So maybe you could say I spent about 20 hours of “work” time.
This past week, we spent a day hosting friends here at the Harn which entailed about 3 hours of cooking and tidying, I canned 4 quarts of green beans which was another hour or so of work. I attended a Board meeting which was another couple hours in prep and attendance. We spent about 4 hours prepping wood for the woodshed and stacking some in the garage in preparation for winter heating needs. I spent an hour or two picking choke cherries and making 6 cups of juice from them – the jelly making took another hour or two, so let’s say about 3 hours altogether. We spent another couple hours working on finishing out the arctic entrance on the porch side – it turned out real nice – we even added a shelf! So that’s about 15 hours. None of this work is paid but isn’t it helping us “make a living”?
When we do work, it’s not typically for a real company or boss. We usually are working for ourselves. Cutting wood, putting up food. These are work I suppose. I think that’s the hardest part, what exactly constitutes work?
The definition online for making a living is: “To earn enough income to support oneself and, if applicable, one’s family.” And Income is “money received, especially on a regular basis, for work or through investments.” If choke cherries help support the family by giving sustenance, shouldn’t they be considered “income”? What about firewood gleaned from the forest? It’s heating our home for free so we don’t have to buy electricity to heat with a heater – isn’t that an alternative to income? Shouldn’t gathering firewood be considered “making a living”? Before money systems, barter was the method of the day. And everyone was basically making things from the resources supplied by the Earth. Weren’t they “working”?
It seems these days that money and work are inextricably linked. But every day people are finding ways to unlink them. Whether through barter or local “money” systems (based on hours worked, not dollars worth of work), there are lots of ways people work outside the money system. My hope is that these efforts continue. In writing this blog, I happened upon an interesting idea …
F•Day = Free Day = The day when the world’s largest economy revokes the monetary market system in favour of a collaborative, technological society based in nature, community and compassion. ~Concept of The Free World Charter
Definitely going to have to read more on this… I’ll keep you posted. And please, you let me know your thoughts on this idea, whether via comments below, FB, email, a phone call, or even a visit.
Photos courtesy of: http://www.thewriteratwork.com/site/archives001.asp & http://freeworldcharter.org/en