Sunday, August 9, 2009

Potty Talk

I hate disaster movies. Like that one about the plane crash in the Andes, Alive, and the survivors stay there *almost* until it's too late. I do realize that it's based on a true story, which makes it even more frustrating for me, because I wonder.

I wonder why they waited so long before they decided to act. I mean, Dude, the plane crashed in this barren wasteland where it's freezing, and you have no food, and no fuel. Get the hell out of Dodge, while you still have the strength to go!

But I also wonder if I would act in time to make a difference if I were put into a similar situation. There's some comfort in staying put and believing that "someone" will come to your rescue.

I'd like to think, based on my past behavior, that I'm not the kind of person who would wait around, though. I don't like waiting, first of all. I'm incredibly impatient. And I also tend to get really panicked by inaction. I know it's not the same, but I won't even wait in traffic jams. I mean, what happens if we have to wait there a long time? I've seen those kinds of disaster movies, too, right? Where people get "stuck" in their cars and bad stuff happens. I'll go around, or depending on where I was, I'd get out and walk, because waiting just isn't an option I can take. I have to keep moving. You know?

I don't usually wait until things get "really" bad before I make a change.

Like with the housing bubble. We bought our house in 1997, and by 2002 the value had more than doubled. It made no sense to me that the value of our little house would increase so much, especially considering we hadn't made any changes. I mean, if we'd added a second floor, or completely remodeled the interior, or even just painted the walls, maybe it would have increased the value a little, but we didn't do anything. It just never made sense.

Of course, like most folks, at first, I was all for borrowing against the value of our house to pay off our increasing debt.

Then, someone said to me, "The value will just keep going up," and I thought about it a little, but could not imagine my house being worth $1,000,000.

Or how I would still be able to afford a house that was worth that much money - especially if I kept borrowing on the equity. It didn't seem possible, anyway, that my house could be worth that much money.

But, there are, indeed, homes in my community that are (supposedly) worth that much. I couldn't imagine my house being worth even a quarter of that, but there's a house within shouting distance of mine that was listed for more than $300,000. That's so much money! The idea that my house could ever be worth even as much as the list price of that other house boggles my mind, frankly, and it just doesn't make any sense.

Oh, I understand how and why it happened, and I understand that it had nothing to do with my individual home, but that it was something much bigger, over which few of us had any control ...

... like a plane crash ...

... or a housing bubble burst ...

... or an economic crash.

Over the past few years, I've spent a lot of time reading around the Internet. There's a whole group of folks who are looking at the current times and thinking, "Get out!" I totally respect their feelings, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn't be also thinking in those terms.

We could (try to) sell our house and buy an RV, fill it with books, and travel around the country hoping someone will buy our books so that we can buy gasoline and food. The problem with that scenario is that we'd be even more dependent on the "money" economy than we are now. At least here, we can produce some of our own food, because (in a manner of speaking) we "own" the land. We don't have to worry about where to park, or being run off the land for parking illegally, and if gasoline becomes seriously scarce or cost prohibitive, we don't have to worry about being stranded someplace where we'd have no way of supporting ourselves (like the middle of a desert).

Of course that whole train of thought brings up the problem of staying, in that *if* we were to lose our jobs, how would we pay the mortgage, but if we lose our house, where would we go? And it's that question I grapple with. How much time should we struggle to stay here, hoping things get better? How much do we continue to invest in this living space?

Those thoughts sometimes make me feel a little like a plane crash survivor who keeps hoping against hope that help will come. I'm not thinking that eating my neighbors would be too palatable.

But at the same time, it's nothing like that, because unlike the plane crash survivors, I have the tools necessary to survive, here, if help never does come. I'm not at the mercy of elements I can not control. I certainly can not control the economy, but I can control what I do right now so that if things keep getting worse, we won't be as hard hit.

That's what all of this prepping has been about, after all - the belief that help is NOT going to arrive, and that, essentially, we're on our own.

We're still not even close to being off-the-grid or totally self-sufficient, and I realize that there are certain changes we could make toward self-sufficiency that we probably won't make until it's too late or until our choices are very limited.

Like a composting toilet. Right now, we could probably afford to buy an ultra fancy, non-electric model, but we probably won't get a composting toilet, because for our house, on our lot, in our neighborhood, with things being the way they are right now, it doesn't make sense to invest the thousands of dollars. We have a perfectly good private septic system that cost several thousand dollars to install, and installing something else to take its place, isn't prudent - especially when we can be spending that money on classes and books and tools for which we don't have alternatives.

But it's not that I haven't considered what we would do, if we no longer had access to the municipal water that we use to flush the toilet, and we no longer have power to pump the excess water into the leach field. If it comes down to it, we would dig out the septic tank cover, build it up a couple of feet above the ground (so that no one would fall in it when we take the cover off), and then, we'd use the five-gallon bucket toilet option inside the house, which we'd empty into the septic tank. There are two very large, fully enclosed, cement tanks down there (one is the pumping station) that we could fill. It would take a very, very long time to fill them up.

My mom told me that when she was growing up, they had an outhouse out back and a chamber pot in the house, which they carried outside to the outhouse. When she shared her story with me I thought, "Ew! What if the pot tipped?", and so I asked her if she'd rather have emptied the pot or just used the outhouse. She said she preferred using the pot inside, and that carrying it out wasn't as bad as having to go outside at night and in all sorts of weather.

Which made me realize, we could easily make something like this. We already have the bucket ;).

I guess the difference between my decision to stay here in the suburbs and a plane crash survivor (well, other than all of the totally obvious reasons :) is that I know there's a very strong possibility that we may be in an emergency situation, and I'm able to make some plans.

Waste disposal is just one of the things we will, likely, have to deal with.

What's your plan?


  1. Found your blog tonight through a comment you left on Robbyn's blog. I have now read the entire archive of this site and am very glad I have found you! I too am in a suburban setting, and I live in New Brunswick, so I can certainly appreciate that rainy June you had...I had the exact same one!

    I am very, very new to preparedness; I only put in my first "real" garden this year, and ooooo, what a disappointment it has been. (Stupid weather!) But I am learning every day, and I suspect your blog will be part of that learning. Thanks again.

  2. I kinda started my plan two years ago when we decided to sell the McMansion and leave Idaho. In a state with water rights if you don't have a senior one from the 1800's you are always at the mercy of those who do. Selling everything, moving 2500 miles to a more sustainable climate was step one. This year's garden and learning from that is step two. Step three is fowl... sorry, pun escaped, we'll get chickens and hopefully ducks. Step four is goats. Step five is bees.

    We feel we'll have the time to do these steps and we live in an area abundant in natural resources yet fairly low in population.

    I just keep praying my plan works and so far *knock on wood* it is working.

  3. I plan to stay put as well as I can. Here we have perennial fruits started, our own well and no shortage of ground water, our laying hens, room for a root cellar, and a big garden already in place. We're within 3.5 (quite hilly) miles of a town big enough that it would probably receive occasional deliveries of the (real) necessities, if infrequently. Yes, we could do the composting toilet thing if we had to, though like you, we've got our own septic for now. We just keep plugging away at whatever seems to be the next thing, as best as we can tell what that is.

  4. As you know, we're staying in our region as well. Before we can move on to major prepping, though, we need to get our own place. I hate being in a rental where we can't tear out the lousy stuff and build it up right.

  5. Welcome, Irma! It's good to have you here, and don't worry. It's all about baby-steps. I don't know where I am on the "preparedness" path, but it really has a lot of trial and error, and the hardest part, which I've talked about before ( ... I deleted all my archives in March ;), is that here in the suburbs life is what it is, and it's tough to be trying to live the simple life, when, by necessity, we're still very much a part of the "money economy." It's finding that balance. Luckily, I have Deus Ex Machina, who keeps me from going totally overboard ;).

    Anna, I imagine making that move was quite a leap of faith for you. You'll love step three - the "fowl" :). We've had chickens for a few years, have raised (meat) rabbits for almost a decade, and added ducks this year. It's fun. Goats would be a blast!

    Kate - I love reading about all of the things you guys are doing. You're a continued inspiration to me.

    Chile - As I mentioned on your "staying put" post on your blog, I'm so happy for you that you've been able to make that (not) move. I think one of the hardest things for us in the past three years or so was finally realizing that this is where we need to be. It's not perfect, but it is where we are. I hope you find your house soon. It really is much easier when you're not worried about what someone else might think about something you've done ;).