Self-sufficiency is overrated

I spend a lot of time complaining to my husband that he never leaves the farm. When I was dating him I thought it was charming that he talked about how “city traffic is exhausting” when he was driving in Madison, WI.

When I moved to the farm I grew increasingly annoyed that that I had to do all the driving because he always had a good reason that he had to stay home.

“Farmers don’t leave their farms,” is what everyone told me. I chalked that up to ignorance. But then he left me home one night and told me he took care of all the chores except the chickens. “All you have to do is lock them up,” he told me.

I forgot. I’m sure you’re wondering how that could happen. I even set an alarm. But there is a lot to think about. Or something. I don’t know why I forgot. But I got them in the barn. But by that time, it was pretty late and two of the chickens had already found a new place to sleep. And the raccoons found them there and ate them.

I guess that’s why farmers don’t leave non-farmers home to take care of the farm.

So I started going everywhere without my husband.

But just when I got used to the idea that farmers don’t leave the farm, he had an emergency and had to leave in the morning. Totally unplanned.

He said, “I rushed to get chores done. I left the kids’ chores for them to do, so all you guys need to remember is to collect eggs and feed the goats.”

I said, “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.”

Then he said, “Oh. What about the fire?”

I jumped at the opportunity: “I can do it!”

The house is heated with a wood burning furnace. It’s away from the house and it heats water. Here’s an explanation of how it works, but the most important thing to know is that you need an incredible amount of wood to get through the winter, and you have to take care of the fire pretty much every two hours, and the whole operation is pretty stressful.

For my husband. Not for me. I never think about it except when the house is cold, because he gets so upset when I complain about the heat, that I just turn on the oven and open the door when he’s not looking.

It’s almost never cold in the house, though. In fact, we wear summer clothes in the house most of the winter because heat from wood is much warmer than heat from oil. I have no idea why this is, but I hear farm people say that all the time, so I say that, too.

Last winter was really cold. At one point, the wood pile looked like this:

And my husband was freaking out.

“The pile looks great to me,” I told him.

“How long do you think that’ll last?” he asked.

It turns out that was a week’s worth of wood; and in the middle of winter we were down to the last of the wood.

So all four of us went to the forest to collect wood. I felt so hard-core that day. My husband chopped the dead trees and we rode to the forest in an empty trailer and came back with a new wood pile.

The kids loved the job. It was really hard work, and though they slacked off, turning skinny branches into guns, they definitely understood that we all needed to contribute labor to the effort of keeping the house warm.

After that I thought a lot about whether or not I could run the farm on my own. What if my husband dies? What if something happens to him and he can’t work?

So when my husband left this morning, I felt like it was an opportunity to see if I could run everything myself. I want to feel self-sufficient on the farm. I want to know I could manage everything on my own.

I know he adds wood to the fire every two hours. I waited two hours but I guess it was more like three, maybe, because the fire was out. There were little embers on the bottom of the furnace.

I channeled everything I learned at Girl Scout camp and started looking for kindling. But a farm is not a great place for kindling. I mean, it’s not like we have dead tree branches all over the hay fields. And the forest is too far away to walk to in the cold.

I tell myself I am a Pilgrim trying to get through the first winter in Jamestown and I must figure out how to build the fire.

I take two boxes from Amazon out of the garbage. They catch fire on the embers, and the fire is so fast and big that I forget to put a log on the flames and it dies.

I consider cutting canes off my rose bushes to use as kindling but (theoretically) they are still alive. I look around for something else and I remember the kids made a big pile of little sticks to mark the place they buried their cat. I have already used my kid’s own money to pay them from the Tooth Fairy, so this does not seem so bad. Anyway, I take a small enough amount that they won’t notice.

Back at the furnace, there is no flame at all. I go inside and get matches and the kids ask me, “What’s taking so long with the fire?”

I ignore them. As I trek back to the furnace I pick up some dead leaves. I think I remember using those, too, in Girl Scouts.

I put leaves under the sticks and bigger sticks on top of little sticks and it’s a little layered tee pee and I light it.

The match does not catch. I light another. It catches, but in my excitement I spill the matches on the ground. I collect them and toss them all in as luxury kindling.

Things are going well. I spend another half-hour building a great fire. My eyes sting. My clothes smell. And I can’t believe I have to do it every two hours all day long.

I don’t think it matters that I could build a fire because I want to live with someone who will build a fire for me. I don’t mind helping. It’s like building the wood pile: Fun. For one day. Not more.

There would be no point in my husband marrying someone who is excited to be self-sufficient on the farm. Why would she need him? It’s better to be married and work as a team. So neither person is self-sufficient. After all, my husband has no patience for going to music lessons or dinosaur digs.

It’s so hard to see this truth in the city. So often both parents want to be the breadwinners and both parents want to be the hands-on parent. But I’m not so sure that’s what self-sufficiency is. I think self-sufficiency might mean, instead, that you can be a good teammate with someone who does what you don’t do, and you provide support to each other so that being a team makes sense.

80 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    This self-sufficiency stuff might have started with Teddy Roosevelt’s “rigorous life” that everybody seemed to want to model in the early 20th century.

    Truth is, nobody’s truly self sufficient. We are interdependent — if not on each other, as you and your husband are, on services provided.

    I have an all-electric home. And even though I’m in the city, when my house was built it was out in the county and so therefore has a well rather than city water. You’d better believe that the last thing I ever, ever want to happen is to lose power in the middle of winter. My house becomes immediately useless: no heat, no water.

    If I had to stoke the wood-burner every 2 hours I could never go to the office. I depend on my city’s services to allow me to pursue my career.

    • Gary
      Gary says:

      Jim, you can be a LITTLE more self-sufficient than that; maybe proactive is a better word. Save water, and buy yourself a kerosene heater and a Coleman camp stove. Also, check out TR’s speech again; he stressed doing one’s best WHILE also helping others. I think the self-sufficiency movement may have started with the push for the ERA.

  2. Dee
    Dee says:

    In a way, the distortion of feminism has led to this problem increasing. Feminism is about equality, not the idea that you don’t need a man. Somehow it’s become wrong to need your husband.
    Here in Sweden it’s becoming more and more absurd.
    If the dishes need doing, it’s done together and after that you walk the dog. Together. Everything takes these couples twice as long because of a ridiculous and unrealistic attemp to make everything exactly 50/50 equal. What happened to “I’ll do the dishes and you walk the dog and then we’ll have time and energy for sex” ? (Hint- that’s better for the marriage in the long run).
    Who cares about who does what? As long as you work as a team to benefit the team, you’re on a winning streak.
    My husband drives our car, not because I cant, but because he likes it better than me. I like to wander off in my thoughts and driving prohibits that.
    I cook, he cleans. Why? Because I’m a great cook and he has OCD, so he cleans 5 times before I’d even think about cleaning. In turn, he’s surprised every time he senses hunger as if it isn’t something you can plan for. (He never gets that you cook before you get hungry).

    I spent my early 20’s trying to overcompensate for my gender and prove that “I can too” by throwing myself at any task or domain that was considered “for men”. Until I realized that a lot of the things I was doing, and of course COULD do- I had no interest in doing.

    Feminism- free to choose to be the one that handles the barbecue and free to choose to not ruin my manicure digging that hole in the garden.

    Sorry for the rant.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      I love this post, and this response! and the fact that it came from Sweden I love even more…My husband and I work together in the same fashion; it is our second go round and we are getting too old to care what anyone else thinks is ” right”– We work it out, and I know if I had to live without him, I would spend a fortune fixing broken stuff, and if he did not have me, he would never eat until he was passing out, and would forget to have sex too until he could hardly stand it any longer! Being open to each others strengths and weaknesses is what makes a great union, and a happy life every day. Common Sense Stuff. Thanks Penelope, great post as usual.

    • Beth L
      Beth L says:

      I totally agree, Dee. There is such a move, at least in the US, to pretend there is no such thing as gender differences. It is ridiculous.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        the question is not about the fact that there are gender differences, but feminism is about having the same opportunities. You choose how to take them – if you like to cook, knit, sew, by all means do so. Other women prefer to do the digging or car repair and that is what it actually is about. THere certainly are those who interpret feminism in a different way – but for me the essence is the right and opportunity of choice. For myself: I work in a very male dominated, math driven profession, AND like to cook and knit. Where does that put me in terms of traditional gender preferences?

        • DB
          DB says:

          Yes FEMINISM- if that’s what were talking about now is all about CHOICE-( it always was)..
          Men can do trad womens work women can decide to do what they want and not be blocked by hook or crook ( or other BS)!!!
          But the original Pen post is about self sufficiency etc and farm vs city jobs- isn’t it? Don’t know why this got all about Feminism- Christ it’s about farming and sustainability right?

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            it was in response to ” pretend there is no such thing as gender differences” and several comments about why women should happily enjoy to be taken care of. The post itself is indeed about specialization and not about gender roles – it was taken in this direction in the comments and this is what I responded to.

          • Jim C.
            Jim C. says:

            If that’s so, why do most feminists ridicule women who choose to be stay-at-home moms? Over the past 42 years my wife has gotten flak from female lawyers, female office workers, and even from one very snotty nun.
            Never mind that it’s people like our four children (now grown) who will be keeping the economy going so these childless snobs can collect their pensions. The childless have plenty of investments, you say? If no one is producing goods, retirement savings are worthless. (Analogy: During a famine, a person’s money is useless if there is no food to buy.)

        • DB
          DB says:

          Oh- sorry Redrock. Since I was just on an Iphone I couldn’t tell the individual replies from the general comments!!;)

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      Washing the dishes and walking together sounds wonderful to me. It’s not about making sure everything is 50-50, it’s about enjoying time together while doing the must-do activities (which take up a whole lot of time when being a parent).

      I don’t think in terms of my-turn, your-turn (I always assume it’s my turn if I want it done). But I was married to someone who did think that way.

      So I think it’s best to partner up with someone who thinks the same way about the mundane tasks, and about spending time together.

    • Sarah
      Sarah says:

      Also Swedish…and I’m confused by this characterization of Sweden. I don’t know anyone who does dishes together or walks the dog together or any other kind of task like that for the sake of gender equality…

      Swedes like to talk in politics a lot about equal housework, gender equality, etc. but in the home it’s clear that it’s definitely not the absurd feminist world you’re describing: for example, despite gender neutral parental leave and strong encouragements for men to take it (3 months reserved for each parent of total 15; if the other parent doesn’t take their 3 it’s lost) women still take something like 90% of parental leave.

      • Dee
        Dee says:

        As a fellow swede, would you agree that the norm is that woman are expected to to want to work and that couples SHOULD divide the parental leave equally?

        I know women that have been attacked for choosing to stay at home with their children, men on the other hand- commended for doing the same thing. This is my point when I say that some people distort the meaning of feminism- that it should be about choice and opportunities.

        You are seen as a “back stabber” to feminism if you don’t go by the norm. A woman I know almost had a fit about me being the one that cooks in our family. It didn’t matter that it was my choice- somehow I didn’t choose it, I was so “suppressed by gender roles” that I thought that was what I wanted. (wtf ?) Talk about going too far.

        I love feminism, I hate how it’s being used to suppress individuality. I work as a police officer btw, if that matters.

        I find the statistics of parental leave to be a joke.
        The parental leave statistics are based on who in the couple receives money for parental leave. It has actually no reference to who is at home/taking care of the kids and who is working, just in who’s name benefits are used.
        In my case for instance, I earn more that my husband and therefor the money/day I receive for parental leave is higher than he gets. Because we get 420 days to divide- it’s financially more beneficial (for our family) that the money is received in my name. (700euro more per 30 days to put it in perspective). You have the right to stay at home from work 18 months without receiving this money. Therefor my husband can stay home 18 months without ever adding to the statistics by receiving benefits in his name. We’re adding to the non-equality statistics when we’re in fact the most equal couple I know.

        • Sarah
          Sarah says:

          Yeah, when you put the emphasis on the way people talk about how it *should* be that’s pretty much what I was getting at too — there definitely are strong normative ideas about how gender roles should be, I just find that it usually seems to be more talk than practice.

          Interesting point about the potential skew in the data! I would still guess that for most families the situation is the reverse of you and your husband, i.e. the man is more likely to be a higher earner (given that there’s a wage gap in Sweden just like in pretty much every OECD country), in which case if they did something akin to what you’re doing, we should see more dads taking the benefit than we’d expect…

          Sweden is a funny place. But on the whole a pretty good one

    • Alan
      Alan says:

      The pendulum has, unfortunately, swung over to an era of public heterophobia. There’s a lot of momentum there. We can hope that the thing swings back but it’ll be a long time. It would require people to get smarter and that’s a losing bet.

  3. Maria
    Maria says:

    Penelope, has your husband considered coal burning or setting up a more efficient system for winter heating?

    Seriously, how does he get any sleep if he has to wake every couple of hours to feed the fire?

    Also increasing insulation and r-factor of the windows, doors, walls, and floors as well as attic should improve the efficiency.

    I hate repetitive tasks. If I do have to do repetitive tasks then I try to multi-task. So if I am leaving, I’ll take the trash out at the same time. If I have to get something done outside, I’ll walk the dog too.

    My schedule varies, but it permits me to be efficient. Self sufficient means different things for different people. For me, it means survival. Because all of the electricity and money in the world mean nothing during a power outage in the middle of winter. You can’t count on conveniences sometimes.

    I did however inefficient, admire your heating system.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Something interesting about farmers: they love repetition. Doing chores is so fundamental to farming and it’s the same thing every day. And really, if you want to be the most efficient possible you wouldn’t be on a family farm. It’s not efficient. It’s about loving the intricacies of the process.

      I had a really hard time learning this because as soon as I got to the country I wanted to monetize and disintermediate everything. But farmers aren’t running their lives by the same business values that we’d expect. They have business values that are more akin to artists.


      • D
        D says:

        Haha! I tried to do the exact same thing with my ( mainly) PT hobbyist farmer!!
        ie, ” why not raise some organic beef, or vegetables or goats or lease out pasture to horse people’ etc etc etc – then quit your dam job ( his mortgage was paid off prolly 100 years ago-. Haha- all he paid was taxes and a small electric and phone bill etc.
        But I was amazed to find out this environmentalist only wanted to spend 2 years fighting to buy the nearby acreage that eventually protected him from ever seeing any new home development-Smart!
        He had no interest in people!
        And although my therapist said she thought my farmer had Asburgers- I think it was just good horse sense….

      • Mark
        Mark says:

        That’s a really great point. There is a rhythm to life on a farm that is far more soothing that the repetitive tasks we generally experience in cities and suburbia.

      • Alta
        Alta says:

        ” Farmers aren’t running their lives by the same business values that we’d expect. They have business values that are more akin to artists.” Very very well said. Its a quotable quote.

  4. Jory
    Jory says:

    Penelope, seems some people commenting miss the point about teamwork. Anyway, that’s the message I got from this post.
    Sometimes I get unnecessarily upset when my wife doesn’t do this thing or that thing around the house (we both have careers). Lately I try to remember all the things she does do so well and that helps me feel good about sucking it up and doing those things without getting a resentment…my way of being a good teammate at home! Thanks for the post.

  5. Doblange
    Doblange says:

    My ex-boyfriend never left his ( hobby)farm either except for his 4 day a week job..
    And his feeling was people visiting were just taking up his time from cutting wood too!( although he partly heated with oil and also a Woodstove )… But he always kept at least 2 years worth of cut and split( wood in a COVERED lean-to( can’t believe yall can use wet wood in a wood furnace but I’m not familiar.
    Any way as great a guy as this Massachusetts sweetie was, after about 8 years of going together- ( and even after I overlooked the fact that for our first celebration of my birthday he actually gave me a rake)!!!,haha…. sadly eventually, for a few reasons we parted ways. But the truth is, and you may feel this a bit too Pen, that even though I had to be at his farm to get to see him other than the odd family wedding or funeral or occasional meal out- one of the main reasons I was attracted to this bee- keeping madman in the first place was that he WAS so dedicated to what had been his boyhood home- a place I would NEVER want him to give-up on.
    And I now I realize the extremely hard work of maintaining the fields, a home and farm equipment , with out even having more than a few dogs!!
    And I also realize how lucky I was to know him.
    – the man who also ended up burying my own dog of 18 years -carefully placing a lovely little tombstone over his grave
    … I say we should all be so lucky to have any farmers or other dedicated, good people in our lives.
    And even though I’ve moved on to be closer to my own family, I miss my farmer like crazy.
    From Louisiana

  6. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    Only you could take a pile of wood and turn it into an interesting blog post that I just read out-loud to Terreeia while she was cooking dinner.

    And she hates it when I read to her because I read to fast but in this case, she didn’t mind because we were both interested to see what you did next.

    And a lesson at the end to make us think.

    You are such a good writer Penelope.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Aw, Maria, that is so nice of you because I think you are such a great blogger. I always think: Maria is so useful. I need to remember to be that useful!


  7. malaika
    malaika says:

    hahaha! I laughed aloud at this post.

    I spent a month WWOOFing with a farmer last year. the ONE and only night he left me all alone on the farm, I decided to make him a present in the wood shed and because I didn’t know the first thing about big saws and little saws, I used the wrong one and sawed off my finger, which luckily the surgeon was able to sew back on. and then my farmer said, “there was blood everywhere! I had to clean it up!”

    so, agreed. self-sufficiency is so 2000-and-late! :)

  8. Kaneesha
    Kaneesha says:

    Penelope, I used to pride myself on how self-sufficient I was. I bought my own home, paid for my car and lived life on my terms. Now I’m in a situation that has highlighted how truly alone I am. I kinda wish I had someone to take a bit of this load off me, and do all the things I hate.

    Everything is fun until it isn’t.

    Fantastic post. Exactly where I am in life now.

    • Madelyn Lang
      Madelyn Lang says:

      I love this reply and I love this post!
      ” I used to pride myself on how self-sufficient I was. I bought my own home, paid for my car and lived life on my terms. Now I’m in a situation that has highlighted how truly alone I am. I kinda wish I had someone to take a bit of this load off me, and do all the things I hate.

      Everything is fun until it isn’t.

      Fantastic post. Exactly where I am in life now.”
      I’m middle aged now and am seeing a lot of friends and family(my age) realizing this just as you said it. Looking ahead realistically is so hard, and realizing that most of your dependents, especially if they’re your kids, are going to have their own busy lives to tend…We are a generation of loners and we didn’t cultivate interdependence.

      • ember123
        ember123 says:

        This is me. I spent my lifetime (I am 34) getting an education ao I could have a good job – so I would never *need* anyone to take care of me. Little did I know how lonely independence is.

  9. Ranjeet
    Ranjeet says:

    Liked the post and the crux : @”I think self-sufficiency might mean, instead, that you can be a good teammate with someone who does what you don’t do, and you provide support to each other so that being a team makes sense.”

  10. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    “I felt so hard-core” I’m laughing so hard!

    I suck at building fires but it’s true, it’s warmer than any other type of heating.

    Of course self suficiency is overrated. But only if you insist on using it in the wrong times. It’s good when you’re alone and have no one to depend on. It’s useless and hurtful when you’re around people and can instead capitalize in everyone’s strengths and try to cover for each other’s weaknesses.

    But I do think it’s great to not need your spouse to get on with life. It makes it so each other try to be the kind of person it’s goodd to be around. Otherwise either spouse is dependent and stuck whether they like it or not. But if you’re not needed to make life happen you remember that instead you’re wanted so badly that someone is willing to put up with your craziness in exchange for your company and love.

  11. Cay
    Cay says:

    I would write something about having to be prepared for anything, but this post isn’t really about self-sufficiency being overrated — it’s a love letter.

    Which is pretty close to hitting the mark, actually — to a great extent, it is love that shields us from uncertainty. The people who love you, the connections you nurture, the love you put into your work.

  12. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I love this article. I appreciate my (INTJ) husband who likes implementing my ideas and doing the detailed work. He is good at all the things that make me unhappy. I’d hate to be self-sufficient, which I think just means having to do the stuff I don’t want to do as well the stuff I’m good at.

  13. Gary
    Gary says:

    People are made with different qualities. Successful teams and marriages result from these qualities being complementary, not identical, in each participant. This holds true emotionally and intellectually, as well (and, I’m sure, many other areas). There can be no success otherwise; think having a thousand Legos, but they’re all innies or outies. The quicker the parties learn and implement this principle, the happier and richer the ensemble will be.

  14. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    I like how in the farmer blog there is a reference to you as ‘citygirlfriend’ :-).

    Dunno about the self-sufficiency angle, but for me this is about (humorously) stepping into someone else’s shoes to appreciate what they do for you and maybe thinking twice before complaining next time the house feels cold. Appreciation is underrated.

  15. through my autistic eyes
    through my autistic eyes says:

    As much as I love nature and hate the city, there’s much to say for having a supermarket nearby and all the city has to offer.

    I wouldn’t know how to start doing all these chores, really. Never had to. I’m a city girl.

    However, working together on the farm sounds romantic. You go places without your husband, perhaps you should feed the goats and chickens together. Sounds like fun, too, for an animal love like me. I always believed doing things together constantly strengthens a relationship.

    I dont heat my house. California like weather. An air conditioning is much more important than heating, and I don’t have neither.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      My parents definitely believe in the doing things together constantly.

      He worked long days and she’d hurry tp shower, put on lipstick, and have dinner perfect by the time he got back. She was always aiming for that perfect performance and sometimes she was frazzled by it.

      I grew up understanding relationships that way. And the American way of doing things separate and having time apart is killing me. I’m trying to adjust as much as possible but I don’t get why breaking the cardinal rule of doing things apart is meant to doom the marriage. All I saw during my formative years was opposite to that wisdom and marriages lasted forever.

  16. DB
    DB says:

    I found that my dreams of ” working together on the farm” as being romantic were perhaps true in my 20’s, but now- at 61- give me solar or wind or WHATEVER power that takes me out of the dark ages as much MORE romantic! Haha
    But I have always preferred living with a significant other no matter how the work is split!
    Self sufficiency is way overrated no matter How you cut it, farm or city or male female city or country- farmer or city person period….
    It’s all relative, right?

  17. Satya
    Satya says:

    I’m totally with y on teamwork. But as an SJ personality it’s so hard to deal with the fear that something will happen to my husband or to me. My ultimate fantasy as the person who takes care of our finances is to automate all the bills and even a weekly grocery delivery, and earn enough royalties or other passive income to automatically cover it all, even if I die. It gives me anxiety to think I might die and my husband won’t pay our bills on time.

    Yes, this is what an ISTJ lies awake thinking about at night.

  18. Chris
    Chris says:

    There are lots of things we NEED, some of them being contradictory: we need to feel self-sufficient as well as interdependent. We need a strong partner in hard times and when raising kids. I need to know and believe that I have everything we need already within myself.

    In marriage, you hope to begin as equals, each with needs as well as a sense of independence. As time goes on, the equality thing may give way temporarily or permanently. As with a partner that has a disability or a chronic illness. Or having a situation where one is without a job for a while. Or when you are pregnant and/or have a child who is infant-to-toddler aged.

    But if you have a history of give-and-take, you will say “Okay, not it is MY turn,” or “Now it is my partner’s turn”. And you believe that the equality, the equal balance, will again swing the other way.

    Though Penelope never mentions the word, I think that generosity that is born of having faith and trust in your partner, is the quality to cultivate and practice. And patience. And gratitude. And letting-go. And patience.

  19. kats
    kats says:

    I got a real chuckle out of your writing today. I have tried, numerous times in my life, to be self-sufficient, and found it was: 1. No fun; 2. Too much work!

    I grew up in the midwest with a “pull your own bootstraps” mentality. After all, we never would have had pioneers, if there was not some heavy bootstrap pulling. I now believe in interdependence. My husband does the chores I find horrid and vice versa. If something were to happen to him, I would be searching Craigs List for “handy-person for hire” after about 3 months.

    We do camp. I have a vegetable garden, but that’s it! Sometimes I buy “coffee logs” for our fireplace, but we don’t heat with fire.

    I know survival skills, but hope I will never have to use them!

  20. KathiBee
    KathiBee says:

    “I think self-sufficiency might mean, instead, that you can be a good teammate with someone who does what you don’t do, and you provide support to each other so that being a team makes sense.”

    What a great take-away. When I first got married, I DID NOT want to succomb to gender-sterotypes & did much to not be in that “trap”. However, 20+ years later, here I am. Homeschooling mom, cook, clean-when-necessary, caretaker, etc. Husband provides & deals with the outside, cars & computer.

    I’m who I really want to be in actuality, and we’re much happier for it, still married & yeah, teammates. And I’m not pretending that I really, really want to change the oil filter.

    • kats
      kats says:

      I like thinking of self-sufficiency as a team!
      There is so much energy to words, and so much variance of meaning!

      Teams seem to be where it is at. Schools are realizing this and much of what my son does in school is with a team of people. In math, if someone does not understand something, another team member explains. A family is really a team.

      My husband’s software work is entirely done in teams.

      Could it be that we have evolved as a species, to realize this is one small world and we better work together to save our planet?

      I lived for a year in a cabin with a cloth door on 80 acres, 1 mile from anyone. It was such a romantic impulse, and such a difficult existence. I must say that it took that experience to know the limits of “alone”.

  21. Amy A
    Amy A says:

    I love this post.

    Each person doing what they enjoy doing is so key in a relationship.

    The biggest fights I had were when my partner expected me to do the things he hated doing; the thing was, I didn’t enjoy them either. It would have been so much better if we had done together the stuff we didn’t like doing and made it enjoyable and as bonding-time; and then individually we could have done our respectfully-enjoyable specialties.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      Before we had kids we always had a messy house because we were busy doing things that seemed more important than having an immaculate place of residence.

      My favorite memory was that we had fought about the house being disorganized and then decided to make margaritas to make the cleaning less painful. Chris got margarita mix with tequila in it without knowing so we added more tequila.

      We got sloshed.

      Moping had never been so fun.

      We’re so smart we decided a nap was a good way to reward all the headway we made (moping is not much) and we didn’t wake up until like 6 pm. And it was too late for work at that point so we just cleared the living room amd watched a movie.

      We probably argued about again later but that day was fun anyway.

  22. Joe Fecarotta
    Joe Fecarotta says:

    I wanted to start off my year with a great blog read and this was perfect. I work with coaching teams in big companies and I preach this all the time. Complimentary skills and interests mean *different* skills and interests. It not only makes for a happier life, it prevents group think. Thanks Penelope and have a great 2015!

  23. Holly
    Holly says:

    Ah yes, self-sufficiency. Many years ago I moved into an old farm house in the country that only had a wood stove for heat. How hard could that be I wondered? Well, I found out. It was constant work and going away in the winter was a big production because everything could freeze. I learned a lot. But I will say, when the power went out I still had heat and could cook on top of the stove. Now I’m older and wiser and no longer feel like chopping wood incessantly so I have an efficient gas furnace and life in a neighborhood filled with wonderful people. We look out for each other. I can be self-sufficient in many ways, but I so appreciate the interdependence of connections with others.

    • DB
      DB says:

      Yes Holly,( and I think Penelope uses the term ” self- sufficiency ” very loosely bc as we know just bc u heat with a Wood Furnace /stove doesn’t mean you are- I don’t know if they produce all their own food… But
      Along the same lines, I love the film Off The Map w Sam Neil ( not the tv show)- where they truly do and all their kid wants is to be a real Girl Scout ( ” not a used Girl Scout )” etc… Just a great Netflix film about self sufficiency… I love Penelope- haha…. She really tells it like it is!!
      ( Ps Kèith Richards was a high ranking Scout too- which helped him put out the fires in all the houses he nearly burned down)…IJS

  24. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    Our only source of heat is a woodstove, and my boyfriends spends full days taking down trees, and cutting and splitting and stacking wood. I used to try to be as good as he was at everything, which didn’t feel right.

    Then I found that on firewood days, 2 hours is the perfect amount of time for me to help. I think it makes him feel like he’s the provider and running the farm, but that I’m grateful and helpful, and in this with him.

    I never put words to it, but it’s totally finding the balance of dependency and self sufficiency that makes us a better team.

    • DB
      DB says:

      Yes- I love your post- that was about as long as I could last Lindsey with my ex too! He was too much of a perfect wood stacker though, and would only let me either throw him his split logs to the woodshed or I to the wheelbarrow for the house in winter….

      • Lindsey
        Lindsey says:

        Ha. I’ve been demoted at times, too. I was a chef at one point, and when I did manual labor all the time, I found I was very picky. Now that I just put it my few hours, I find I do not care how great my stack is. :) plus, one of his stacks fell over in the wind yesterday, so there is a non-verbal truce. Ha!

  25. sara
    sara says:

    I love your post and the photos. The time when this interdependency in a couple on a farm could become difficult is when the farmer ages or becomes infirm. Hopefully by this time your children will be able to help if it is not your thing. Have seen a friend’s parents lose their farm in Minnesota because of elderliness and no children wanting to work on the farm. They kept the house though and sold the land to others to work on so they still live there. Their house is easier because somehow it has heat and running water. Don’t know how rare that is for a farm house. Carry on though. It’s fun for this city person to learn what it’s like on a farm.

  26. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I would recommend that the author learn the basics such as how to work the wood stove, even if she doesn’t do it regularly, in case her husband becomes sick or injured in the winter. However a couple divides up chores, I’m a big believer that both should be capable of doing the minimum needed to take care of themselves and their children, just in case.

  27. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    When I were a nipper in Brit-land I used to be told to go out and fill the “hod” for the Aga cooker from the coal bin.

    That pretty well cured me of self-sufficiency and wood fires. I soon cottoned onto the Yank idea of going up to the thermostat and, with enormous effort, tweaking it up a couple degrees.

    Of course, now you do it with a remote.

  28. jestjack
    jestjack says:

    Great article….one close to my heart…heating with wood. When heating oil prices went crazy about 9 years ago I decided to heat with exclusively with wood by way of our two fireplace inserts….no more oil… My best guess is that I have saved about $20-25K in that time. This is one of the “greenest” ways to heat, is good exercise and provides for some semblance of self reliance. How remarkable it is that in a time when few are willing to commit to anything…that your husband is willing to commit to feeding the wood furnace EVERY TWO HOURS ! I share your husband’s pain of last year’s frigid winter that depleted wood supplies prematurely….This is the kind of thing that keeps folks up at night….farmer or not….

  29. Milos
    Milos says:

    Self-sufficiency is overrated until one isn’t self-sufficient. Then it becomes a valuable asset. :)

    However, I do agree that teamwork is what works the best, having each others back and helping each other make progress each day.

  30. DB
    DB says:

    Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.” ~Clare Boothe Luce
    Although I’m not sure where the gentle readers saw this as a strictly ‘feminist ‘ blogpost ( and I think it was Arianna Huffington who said “face it- if your born female, your a feminist’…but I read Penelope’s post more about who knows the operation of a wood furnace, gathering and splitting firewood etc- And nothing NOTHING about male female roles here..

  31. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Self sufficiency is over rated. I agree. Well, when the zombie apocalypse arrives it won’t really matter that the power has gone out every where else. One of you can tend the fire, and the other one can keep them away with a big burning stick, or granny’s shotgun. Then, run back to the house together and hunker down for two hours, until it’s time to do it again.
    I guess air pollution isn’t a problem there. We have spare the air days, where we’re not allowed to use a fire place or a wood burning stove.

    • D
      D says:

      Let me guess- are u in Cambridge or Wellesley MA? Sounds like something my home state would enact…
      ( actually in some small villages and towns smoke from wood stoves etc is noxious when you live right next door)… I remember a guy installing an expensive wood furnace ( they are outside abit away from your house) and ashes or something burned down his house!!!
      Also the great old feed store in my home town( which was a former barn) burned to the ground when some moron left a pellet stove burning unattended over night! Jeesh!

      • Jim C.
        Jim C. says:

        Not just Massachusetts. In and around cities in Montana where inversions are common during the winter (e.g., Missoula and Helena), they issue air quality alerts when an inversion sets in. No fireplace use and wood stove use only in houses that have a waiver because they have no other heating. We lived in Missoula for eight years and never had a fire in our fireplace, because every time it got cold enough to want a fire there was an inversion.

      • Sandra
        Sandra says:

        Haha! Funny stories. I’m in California, in the Bay Area. They also put a sign up on the Bay Bridge, that lets all the commuters know it’s a spare the air day. Kind of ironic considerimg the amount of traffic that’s there during commute time.

  32. Dave
    Dave says:

    Wow, this brought back childhood memories from Northern Wisconsin. I used to chop wood all fall to have enough for the winter. My job was to keep the fire going, so I fully understand going to check and seeing nothing but embers. Thanks for posting this, I will have to read more of your blog.

  33. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I so loved this post. You NAILED it with your last paragraph.

    “It’s so hard to see this truth in the city. So often both parents want to be the breadwinners and both parents want to be the hands-on parent. But I’m not so sure that’s what self-sufficiency is. I think self-sufficiency might mean, instead, that you can be a good teammate with someone who does what you don’t do, and you provide support to each other so that being a team makes sense.”

    I grew up in the 70’s, when feminism was emerging. However, what that seemed to mean, back then, was that I was supposed to be like a man to get respect. I had to deny my feminine side. It wasn’t about having choices. It was about having to prove your worth based on the scale used to measure male strengths and traits. (remember those silly string ties women wore with their navy blue suits?)

    Now, I don’t think younger people necessarily understand the hill women needed to climb in terms of simply being accepted as strong, intelligent and equal. That you could be those things while also being womanly and feminine did not compute with society yet. You were either weak, silly and incompetent, or you were a man.

    So, I spent the next few decades “proving” myself by insisting on doing all sorts of traditionally male activities, thinking that’s what would win me respect. It pushed me further and further from who I was and caused me to waste a lot of time denying my true nature.

    After I got a divorce, I decided I would never make myself vulnerable to having the rug pulled out from under me, so I decided to focus on being totally self sufficient; never ask for help, learn to do my own electrical repairs, all house maintenance, simple plumbing, financially support myself, etc. I even started a new business at that time to make sure I wasn’t dependent on an employer either. Screw y’all! I can do it all, and do it all by myself! It felt great to be so capable, but man…..sometimes I had a pang of wanting another human to shoulder life with…..

    Even though I refused to put myself out there to date (“I just want to build the life I want, and the people who are supposed to be in my life, will be in my life”), I somehow met a wonderful man when I went to visit one of my customers in the hospital. We’ve been together for 3 years. We live together.

    What a beautiful eye opening experience this has been!!!!! I don’t have to do everything! I can be myself! I can do the things I am good at and love to do that take care of and support our life together. He does the same. And, they are different things, but they are wonderfully complimentary.

    I feel free to be my feminine, artistic (I love repetition too, btw) self and it isn’t seen as weaker or less than, it just is who I am.

    And, when he’s going about life being his very manly self, it’s not a put down to me or an indication that I am unable to do those things. He’s doing what he does best.

    We both do the things that we are strong at and naturally inclined to do and it comes together in a beautiful whole. It makes sense – finally.

    When I met him I had a visual pop into my head of two puzzle pieces slipping together, “Oh, so THIS is what God had in mind”. Two puzzle pieces that fit, aren’t exactly the same, they are complimentary shapes that fit together to form the whole. It was a light bulb moment.

    I read your blog out loud to him this morning and when I got to this part…..

    “I never think about it except when the house is cold, because he gets so upset when I complain about the heat, that I just turn on the oven and open the door when he’s not looking.”

    ….we both laughed because he said it’s exactly what I would do. And, it wasn’t a put-down.

  34. jen
    jen says:

    As I kept going, reading through the post to the end, every time I read, “my husband,” I thought about how long it can take to become comfortable saying those two words — since people come and go and sometimes things crush as they do. Love to you and yours in winter, Penelope.

  35. DB
    DB says:

    Penelope – I love your blog posts and interesting commentors so much… A little off topic but since people were saying it was lonely being somewhat self sufficient- and while I’m not self sufficient – I’m totally not lonely either-I now live in a place with very mild, but damp winters ( maybe only 30’s overnite), but when it’s in the 40’s and I don’t have to go out- I have no trouble not going out at all! I’m nearly retired now but with the internet,blogs and the ability to talk with overseas relatives on Viber or Skype I don’t need to be anywhere! Some of the most talented people I know don’t like being ” out’ or in crowds of people etc… ( although I’m not afraid to go out – I’m just happy ” Home Alone” .
    After all In the old days I’d never get far past the teepee or cabin unless ( as a woman ) I suppose I went to pick berries, wash in a stream or maybe eventually migrate to a better hunting ground with my “tribe”. Might have been left caring for farm animals while the old man was hunting etc.
    Maybe I’m jaded now and have worked around enough people in enough cities ( and had too many boyfriends haha),but truthfully, except for a few loving family members I am close to and luckily do get to see whenever I want – I have always felt , in general that animals- dogs in particular are truly more dependable and loving in the long run. But that’s just me.

  36. Wuyen Hsu
    Wuyen Hsu says:

    Interesting post. I love how visual the post is. I can totally imagine myself frustrated to get a fire up – with no success.
    Life is like a puzzle. No two people are 1o0% alike but somehow everyone fits into a bigger picture. The need of independent survival skill, or self-sufficiency as for this post, is overly rated perhaps originated from the insecurity of modern culture. Now a day, you hear all sort of argument about keeping the financial independent when getting married just to avoid “trouble” down the road. Seems like no one trust anyone anymore – not even the person you wish to spend the rest of your life with.
    My personal experience as an engineer in a small firm. Everyone seems to be scrambling around trying to do every single job themselves. I always wonder if the system should be adjusted so everyone can do only what they are best at. The idea of “sharing” the work seems to be treated to your job or survival security.

  37. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    I grew up with a wood burning stove–in California. My dad chopped and stacked the wood to dry and cure and restacked smaller piles close to the house so we could add it to the fire, about every couple of hours. To this day my dad says he choose my university tuition over electric heat. Dead wood from fallen trees was plentiful so that’s what we used–they still do. With good insulation and double-pane windows wood stoves are an efficient and cost-effective form of heat. Biofuel.

    I enjoyed the post and I think it’s more about specialization and less about self-sufficiency. Farming is his profession and you stepped into that office for a day; anyone swapping jobs for a day is going to be out of their element. Even if individual tasks are not complex or difficult one develops a system to accomplish them. Stepping out of your system and into someone else’s is exhausting.

    If people exclaim “You’re so self-sufficient!” it’s not because you remind them of Thoreau, it’s because you do what you must despite obstacles.

  38. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    When your sons are older, they will remember, talk, and laugh together about Mom taking care of various chores around the farm such as taking care of the fire to heat the house. More than they probably do now. Something to look forward to. :)

    • DoreenB
      DoreenB says:

      I agree with Mark. And, even if or when they leave the farm as adults- I think their fondest memories will always be with that beautiful ( although at times very cold and snowy) home you all made for them there! Many of us only dream of such memories….

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