Best Mom Tip #191: Don’t buy groceries??!!

My beautiful friend Clare and her family of 5 have committed to living for a year without purchasing groceries. Yes, you read that right–and if you want to see what she has to say about the experience you can read her own lovely words about what they’re learning here.

I read her article and was floored. How could a family of five really just live off of local, in-season foods that they traded or grew? I mean, I guess it’s a possibility, but it seems so hard. How would I get pasta? Or chocolate?! For heaven’s sake, think of the chocolate. So to satisfy my curiosity… I went to go see Clare.

Clare feeding our kids lunch

I totally just contacted this woman I have not seen for 10 years and asked her if my kids and I could come stare at her beautiful house and rich garden and learn from her.  Because she is Clare, she said yes.  And (because she is Clare) I knew she would say yes when I asked, so I think that makes me doubly evil.  

When we were back at the University of Georgia, where I met Clare some 20 years ago, I was jealous of how easily she seemed to march to her own drum. While I was buying XL twin sheets at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for my dorm-tastic bed, Clare was purchasing the most beautifully crafted bed made of logs that looked as though it was growing out of a living tree. I had a room with a hot plate and some Christmas lights my roommate and I taped to the wall.  Clare had a room decorated with fairy lights and nature.

So imagine how happy I was to see Clare, still dancing to her own tune, truly living out a life that is different from those around her.

The logistics of what they’re trying to do are pretty interesting.  They bought some staples in bulk back in December before they started.  The idea was to live more like the pioneers Clare’s son Jack had been reading about than to totally take themselves off the grid.  Community and leaning on your neighbors is actually one of the things they like most about this experiment.  They buy toilet paper and other necessities (that’s for you, Allison) when they need them.  They go get medicine from the pharmacy. And Clare said that when they all caught a stomach bug they broke down and bought some real tea because they couldn’t keep anything else down.

Most of us would have a much harder time committing to this lifestyle, even for a year, than Clare’s family. They already owned chickens (which she slaughters for meat in addition to using the eggs) and sheep and her husband hunts.  They already had a pretty big garden that they are looking to expand–and living in the South doesn’t hurt because there’s such a long growing season.  These are people who built their brick home with their own hands and have carved a life out of a pretty rural area that would not go over so well in suburbia.

Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely feeling the bite of this commitment.  Clare said that not eating out was one of the hardest changes.  She said she constantly just swung by Chick-fil-A before they started this. And she’s not happy with the bread she makes so she tries to buy from a sweet lady whose lemon -poppy seed bread I got to taste for lunch (and it was delicious).  I learned a lot about some different ways to approach food in my own household (even though we will still be going to the grocery store). Things like, not every meal needs to be so hardy or we don’t always need meat.  I’m also seriously reconsidering what I consider to be a snack.

Mostly, though, it was just really good to see Clare.  We talked almost constantly for 4 hours while our kids ran around and played toys.  My boys thought her boys’ army men were amazing.  My daughter played dress-up with her daughter.  We picked blueberries in a rain shower while little children danced and giggled and I thought, “Yep, this seems about like how an afternoon spent with Clare should go.”

My Jack trying to catch chickens

I thought that I was making my little trek to learn about her food experiment, but what I really learned was about freedom.  Clare said she feels kind of like a fraud for the attention she’s getting about this year.  She said that there are people who really live this without it being for fun and it was surprising how much attention she’s getting.  It makes her feel uncomfortable–as though she shouldn’t be the face of providing your own food.  I asked Clare if she ever doubted herself–living so differently from most people. Do you ever worry that you’re not doing it right or that you’re swimming too hard against the stream?

Her answer was “Really, only when I look at Facebook or something and I see how everyone else is doing it.” How funny is that?  This amazing woman in the middle of her own land, baking her own bread with wheat she ground herself, with her self-made home and her kids who build their own playhouses worries that she doesn’t put her son in Little League.  At the same time, she worries that she isn’t hard core enough to really be considered a homesteading expert.  It was an epiphany for me.

It was like when my teeny-tiny friend couldn’t fit back into her pre-pregnancy clothes after the baby and I thought “oh, even if you’re really skinny it still hurts if your old stuff won’t fit.”

Even if you’re living an interesting life outside the box, you still worry that it might not be the best for your kids.  You still worry that you’re not doing enough–whatever enough might be for your life and your community.

We had a great time.  I am inspired to try to grow some food that we actually eat and so I will be creating a small garden in my back yard over the next couple of weeks (I’ll let you know how it goes).  I’m going to ask my neighbor for help because her garden is awesome and I loved what Clare said about connecting with their community in such a meaningful way. But mostly, I am going to try to live with more freedom.

Our afternoon with Clare showed me that I worry about things unnecessarily (although I’m still not going to let my son Harry have access to a lighter like Clare’s son Jack does.  He will burn down something and it will NOT be an accident.)  I realized that all the moms I know are probably wrestling with the same fears–is this the right path for my family and my kids? and how am I viewed by the outside world?  What could we do or be or change if we let go of these two questions?

So, thanks Clare.  Thank you for lunch (especially that goat cheese–it was the best I’ve ever had) and for the afternoon.  Thank you for blueberry picking and the dry clothes while ours were in the dryer (yes, she has a washer and dryer). Thank you for talking about the difficulties of smart women without careers and of working parents gone from home too long.  Thank you for the strings recital from Jack and Esme and for letting my kids roam all over your house. Thank you for reminding me that it’s worth trying to swim upstream because nothing feels freer, or more beautiful, than a life you’ve chosen yourself. Thank you. 

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