Dome homes, yurts, tiny houses, earthships, off-grid cabins and more are really cool ideas on sustainable housing that continue to intrigue me. However, the more I have researched seriously, the less realistic it seams for many of us. Here is what I mean, living on 40 acres in Montana is not possible for many either due to the fact that you would have no income, no access to medical care or the huge cost of just getting started. As I was thinking about how to be more sustainable in a McMansion culture that doesn’t even appeal to me from a simple financial analysis, there are many ways that most of us can be more sustainable.
Even for apartment dwellers, you could grow lettuce, herbs and even lemons on your porch or window. But as more and more of the world’s population moves toward the cities, big and small, we have an opportunity to perhaps embark on a true sustainability movement—renovating and reusing existing buildings. Huge townhomes could be split into two or three units. An old home can become more energy efficient with some elbow grease. The truth is that if we all went out there, spread out on our equal portions of 5 +/- acres per person and built a small living space from natural materials, what would we do with all the existing structures across the globe?
When I was in high school, I dreamed of one day building a small home and having something like 40 wooded acres, living in the middle of it. However, as I got out into the economy I have found that while I still do not enjoy metropolitan centers, town life in smaller cities has a lot of advantages. For one, finding a home can actually be much easier and with a smaller footprint of land to your name, less grass cutting (yes! – I am so ready to say goodbye to spending an hour plus on the yardwork each week), friendlier codes for chickens and vegetable gardens abound. It is sad, but in the rural area I have grown up in, you cannot have chickens but in many parts of Saint Louis county you can! A smaller amount of land, in town or even downtown can provide a much more manageable way for you or I to strive toward sustainability. Shorter commutes, public transportation, reduced costs for living because of the larger number of people per square mile actually support sustainability. Solar panels, a micro-wind turbine system, solar hot water, aquaponics, and more are perhaps more manageable on a smaller tract of land. Plus, if you are thinking of turning such a lifestyle into income, you cannot beat the market potential of being within 5 miles of restaurants and direct consumers. This year, my challenge is to take even just 10 minutes of brainstorming a few long-term goals, new daily habits, and small projects this year toward being more sustainable. Why? As a Christian, because the Lord has said in the very beginning of the book to take dominion and steward the earth. It is not about being perfect but continuing to grow and become a better steward, a better manager of my jurisdiction wherever I happen to be in life.
Would I love to spend some time traveling natural sites in a camper, backpacking and living largely off foraging and harvesting meat and greens from the land? Yes. Living off grid in a cabin built with my own two hands has a romantic appeal but is it practical for me now? Perhaps asked a better way, is it actually wise and sustainable and legal? As a Christian, I am supposed to obey the laws of the land. More sustainable and doable for me personally would be to live in a home around or under 1000 square feet, do some of my travel not in my car but via public transportation, improve the energy efficiency of my home while reducing my energy needs, maintain a vegetable garden that is the right size for me, plant a couple fruit and nut trees in the backyard, have a small front yard and care for each square foot I own as best I can. The problem with the Walden idea of self-reliance is that God has created people to live in community from the very beginning. There are varying levels of that community and the Bible by all means encourages personal responsibility in earning your own living, but nonetheless the Bible calls us to a life of community in marriage, in family, in church, as citizens.