The Quick & Dirty Definition
After many false starts I launched this new Soulchaser blog with the tagline Adventures in Alternative Lifestyle Design, and so it falls upon me to attempt to describe exactly what the hell I’m talking about. So here goes:
Alternative lifestyle design is about creating the low-cost, low impact, creative, adventurous, love-filled, ethical, fulfilling, and financially independent life you really want (honestly, you do!).
That statement probably needs some background, and that’s what the rest of this post is about. You might want to grab a cuppa or a glass of wine and get comfy.
What is Lifestyle Design?
Lifestyle Design is, to my mind, simply the idea of visualising the lifestyle you want and then engineering your circumstances to achieve it. Easier said than done but we all understand this concept and try in one way or another to put it into practice. People who want to be doctors go to medical school, people who want to retire comfortably save 10% of their income, people on low incomes who want to get on the housing ladder take out 100% mortgages or enter into dubious government-backed schemes. We don’t always visualise the lifestyle that will actually make us happy, nor do we always design the right path to reach it, but concept is an important one and sound in principle.
However, since Tim Ferris exploded into the consciousness of the very large group of unsatisfied and impatient people who have been hoodwinked by advertisers their whole lives, and who feel sure that a 5 figure income will cure all that ails them and that, guess what, you only need to work 4 hours a week to achieve it, Lifestyle Design has become a sort of movement of Ferris inspired “life hackers” who aspire to the luxury lifestyles of the New Rich (as Ferris calls them).
Although I think there is a lot to learn from Ferris (the man is clearly something of a genius, although more on that later), this is not a movement I wish to be associated with. Too much hype, too much focus on trying to find meaning and satisfaction in life from spending loads of money, too much exploitative marketing playing on people’s inherent weaknesses.
I will dissect the difference more in further posts, but suffice it to say now that Lifestyle Design is a toxic brand of a concept that is in itself excellent. Hence the need for an alternative!
What are Alternative Lifestyles?
I don’t want to try to define an alternative lifestyle (except for my own life and even that is like trying to draw a shifting sand dune in the desert), but I will repeat the guiding statement at the top of this post:
Alternative lifestyle design is about creating the low-cost, low (environmental) impact, creative, adventurous, love-filled, ethical, fulfilling, and financially independent life you really want.
The non-alternative, status-quo lifestyle on the other hand, is high cost, high (environmental) impact, with limited time or room for creativity or adventure, not enough focus on building deep relationships, too much focus on building status (by earning and spending more money), financially dependent/enslaved/indebted/terrorised, unfulfilled and, perhaps most importantly, unethical because it is a dog-eat-dog world and in order to get by we must compromise our beliefs.
We must at least try NOT to compromise our beliefs.
One of the central premises of this blog is that the current socio-economic status quo is built on a consumer-capitalist model of endless and therefore unsustainable and inevitably self-destructive growth, but that it is not the only way to organise society, and that whatever your opinion about the benefits to humanity of capitalism, it is a system that can can be vastly improved upon.
This model, although still incredibly new to humanity in the history of things, has created enormous inequality of wealth (both within and between nations and which is the basis of so much of our feelings of dissatisfaction with our own situations), it promotes and in fact relies on ridiculous levels of consumer spending that in turn require insane working hours that have all become completely normal. This whole system feeds on the lives of the vast majority of people on the planet who work harder than everyone else for just enough to get by (and often less than that), and on the destruction (either directly or indirectly) of our very earth, our only home.
Sometimes when I travel through Jakarta (I’m based in Indonesia at the moment) and I see the scale of the city and of the human activity that built it and bustles in it today, I feel a terrible and crushing sense of powerlessness as though the weight of all of those skyscrapers is bearing down on me. But I only feel that way because I am comparing my power to that of this city and everything therein, which is only going to be demoralising! Compared to the city I am a teeny tiny ant with a similar level of comprehension.
My real power, however, is with myself, and my life my choices. In the domain of my life I am King and Supreme Leader. The most effective and immediate way for me as an individual to improve this model, therefor, is by altering my relationship with it. This is the “be the change you want to see” school of lifestyle design, and the upside is it will almost undoubtedly make you happier!
So some of you are probably worried by this point, fancying that I am a stinky, tree-hugging, tunnel-digging, occupy-sympathising, vegan-loving, nature-fetishising, conspiracy-making, anti-corporation hippy who is economically and morally confused and determined to make everyone go back to living in huts and gathering nuts all day long. Well, maybe I am some, none, or all of things and more, but this blog isn’t really about me, per se. It’s sort of more about you, and (dare I say it without sounding like an utter douche) what lessons and ideas from my experiences might be of use to you.
My Adventures in Design
My entire adult life, I have come to realise, has been a series of iterative, experimental phases aimed at trying to find a life path that satisfies some very competing desires. I have made so, so many mistakes, and learned quite a few valuable lessons as a result. I am still learning the hard way and I haven’t yet reached any of the major goals in my life. I am still massively in debt, have spent so much time moving I don’t have a place I feel I can call home, have relationships with family and friends that are in varying degrees of neglect, fly way too much, spend far too much time working and sitting at my laptop, and probably don’t scrub beneath my nails enough either. In fact, it’s only now that I feel I have started to identify what my major goals really are.
One goal has been fairly constant since I was a boy: I always wanted to be an explorer! It may sound silly, but I was inspired by National Geographic magazine and David Attenborough documentaries. I wanted to explore wild places and bring back photographs, write books, make films. I wanted to explore cultures and ideas, nature and science. I became interested in conservation and environmentalism as a natural result of seeing what was happening to the things I cared about. Over the course of my adult life this goal has had to compete with others, with the battle taking place within the same societal conditions I described above.
So my interest in alternative lifestyle design has come from over a decade of not just figuring out how to become an explorer (that’s pretty easy as it turns out), but in how to balance that lifestyle, and the pursuit of that lifestyle, with the other things I care about. Finding that balance isn’t easy, and I have had to, and still have to ask myself:
- How do I build and maintain close and loving relationships whilst being away from home for much of the year?
- How do I afford to maintain a home somewhere while being away from home for much of the year?!
- How do I incorporate good and valuable work into my adventures so that it’s not just climate trashing hedonism?
- How do I build challenge, adventure and risk into my life, at the same time as stability and routine?
- How do I finance this lifestyle in a way that doesn’t restrict it at the same time, and from an income source that is in line with my ethics?
- How do I live creatively and comfortably with minimum impact and cost?
- How do I ensure that my lifestyle choices (including my work) are a movement – however small – in the direction of the future I want to see?
- How do I do all this and still have an incredibly fun, sociable, and awesome life?!
This blog is about how I’m trying to answer those questions, and about how other people are approaching the same problem of designing their own alternative lifestyles.
So there we have it. Adventures in Alternative Lifestyle Design in a nutshell! I hope that gives a sense of the rationale behind this blog. This is a very new idea and project for me so I’m not sure what’s next, but along with the things that I’m doing in my life that might be of interest, I want to look at other people and projects in all of the areas already mentioned. There is a lot of awesome stuff going on out there and I’m looking forward to discovering some of it and sharing it with you!
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