Dan and Katie have been on my mind since creating this site because they are intentional about every single lifestyle choice they make. I respect them for that. As I sit cozy inside my heated house writing this, I’m alternating between watching a National Geographic documentary called Before the Flood. It’s about how our choices in eating, driving, and daily living are rapidly changing everything on the Earth.
While most people might find it exhausting and guilt-laden to think about how our choices impact others, Dan and Katie simply can’t go along with the masses. Every purchase, every utility use, and every drop of water use affects someone or something in some way, so Dan and Katie have stepped out of the common current. While consumerism is at the heart of most of our choices, intentional consideration is at the heart of how Dan and Katie live.
Most of the choices you and I make everyday are, at their root, meant to maintain comforts in our lives. Even if we’re living paycheck to paycheck, we’re often using those paychecks for comforts we’ve assumed we need rather than true necessities – things like cell phone payments, technology upgrades, cute work shoes, or really good ice cream that’s on sale. We were taught how to live this way by those who came before us and our peers living around us. We don’t stop because perhaps deep down we assume we’d be too limited or uncomfortable if we did.
Dan and Katie, on the other hand, have foregone the typical life most of us lead in favor of living simply so that others may simply live. “If you were to articulate a mission statement for your life, what would it be?” I asked. “To leave the smallest footprint,” Dan said. “I want to be careful about how I take a life to keep my life going.”
Every thing we use or consume has impacted – and will impact – someone or something. In fact, whole regions of the world are affected by what we choose to eat and how we choose to get around.
“I want to be free,” says Katie, in answer to the question, “to be able to take care of myself and not hurt anyone in the process and not contribute to the big, awful, broken system we call government.” “Explain what you mean,” I said. “The whole system involves violence against people and against the land.” “Controls on people are forcing everyone to be ignorant,” Dan adds.
They’re right. Just watch a documentary like What the Health (it’s on Netflix) and you’ll see how we Americans were taught by our media how to eat – drink your milk for protein; eat your eggs for protein; did you get enough meat for your protein? Those media sources have been funded all along by the meat and dairy industries not so we’d get our protein but so they would get our money. Not to mention how it’s affected the land, sea, air, and the animals themselves.
A friend once flippantly commented to me, as we were walking down the grocery store aisle, that the biggest way we vote is through what we choose to buy. I’ve never forgotten that. If we continue to buy something, companies will continue to make it. Think of the billions of Halloween candy bars we consume in October. Watch Before the Flood and you’ll see an aerial view of land that was once stunning tropical forest with tigers, elephants, and orangutans. Now it stretches out as far as you can see as a single massive crop for the sake of palm oil to make all the food we don’t really need.
As much as it concerns me that kids are always bringing packaged foods and throw-away containers to school for their lunches, I can’t help but think how much more difficult it is for Dan and Katie to watch all of us need to have our appliances, cars, and conveniences that require fossil fuels at every turn of a nob and will eventually be dumped in landfills when we’re done with them.
How do they live? Without most of that. But wait, you say, are they dirty? Smelly? Hippies? Weirdos? Working their fingers to the bone on a washboard? Grinding their teeth in moral, stoic, judgmental unhappiness? None of the above. My conversations with them are some of the most intellectually stimulating that I might happen upon in a day. I’ve never felt an ounce of judgment. And they are no more smelly than I.
But yes, they live quite happily without running water, electricity, a washer, a dryer, a stovetop oven, a refrigerator, a hot water heater, wall heaters, you name it. They also don’t spend vast amounts of money in order to own and maintain such myriad “necessities.”
Unfathomable? Unfortunately, because most of us can’t imagine life that way – and some judge them for it rather than the other way around – Dan and Katie experience an unintended lack of fellowship. In a big picture way, “the kind of life we’re living requires a community so that it grows,” says Katie. “The life everyone is living is doomed – it’s all based on fossil fuels but a lot of people are not willing to believe that,” says Dan.
In a smaller picture way, “if you’re not vibrating at the same rhythm, you don’t have friends,” Dan says. Their lifestyle acts almost as a cultural barrier to having other people in their personal sphere. When asked, they can’t come up with anyone else on the island that lives as they do.
On the other hand, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything they want to accomplish. Seeds are their passion. They research seeds, grow seeds, collect seeds, store seeds. Most of what they do each day is directly related to seeds. There are 500-1,000 varieties of seeds (grains, beans, etc.) that they are currently working with, and their short-term goal is to “operate as a community seed bank. But we need more help,” Katie says. Their hope is to eventually grow food in order to eat off the land. “If we had more people maintaining seeds we could think of our own needs,” she says. (More on seeds.)
When asked what originally caused them to choose this way of life, Katie said, “Good food started the change for me…I want to enjoy the food I eat and the best way to do that is to grow it. From there, I started asking, ‘What else could I do differently?'”
In answer to the same question, Dan replied, “I don’t know. I was born that way…By the time I was seven I wanted a garden. By the time I was eight my grandparents started advocating for me.”
I’m not sure when I will become a dramatic cycle breaker. Shouldn’t all the moral considerations have caused me to change by now? Or the idea of setting a different example for my own children to observe and follow? I think about slave owners in the past and judge them because they only stopped because society forced them to. My choices are harming swaths of land, myriad people, and millions of species, yet I wallowed in my hot-water shower last night and turned on our heaters today before driving the kids to school. I am merrily skipping along hand-in-hand with cognitive dissonance. But I see a paradigm shift needing to happen in my life whether I’m “comfortable” or not. It’s going to need to begin because I value everything else more than I value myself, knowing that the intellectual commitment needs to supersede the emotional comfort, as Dan pointed out. And I think I need to hang out with Dan and Katie more in order to start “vibrating at the same rhythm.”
“Is there anything you miss?” I asked them. There was a long pause, as if neither could think of anything glaring. Dan shook his head lightly, “Our life is full of conveniences.”