July 18, 2014

Of Routine and Spontaneity on the Homestead

About 15 years ago I managed a food co-op, i.e. bulk food buying club. It was a small club, where we put in a monthly order, met at a local church, unloaded the truck, divvied everything up, paid the treasurer, cleaned up, and went home. Like all groups we ran into problems along the way and had to make decisions from time to time. Something I observed was that members seemed to fall roughly into one of two groups: those who like rules and those who don't. Those who liked them thought they made the ordering and delivery processes orderly and efficient. Without the routine, they saw only chaos. The other group was the "go with the flow" folks. These seemed to thrive more on spontaneity and believed problems would work themselves out. They disliked rules because they felt stifled by them. This contrast was interesting to me and fortunately we all got along well and never had any knock-down-drag-outs because of our differences.

On the homestead I am learning that we need both routine and spontaneity. Animals, especially, thrive on routine. If things aren't predictable, they aren't happy. I try to set my routine according to their species nature and stick to it. If I'm late, I hear about it! Their care and feeding are my daily chores. They are the foundation of my day. No matter what else I'm doing, when it's chore time, it's chore time. Everything else must be set aside for another time.

Spontaneity on the homestead isn't exactly the same as it is in the rest of the modern world. We can't not do chores for the spontaneity of it, or load up the car on a whim for a weekend getaway. Our spontaneity must exist without the framework of our routine. Even so, interruptions in routine often happen when unexpected things present themselves, such as goats getting their horns stuck in a cattle panel, goats getting their horns stuck in each others' collars, guinea fowl squawking in the middle of the road and blocking traffic, or animals getting hurt or sick. All of these demand immediate action, and the day's plans are delayed if not down the tubes. We've learned that it's not so much spontaneity that's required, it's flexibility.

Weather is an unpredictable factor which requires flexibility on the homestead. In the typical modern lifestyle, weather is considered either cooperative or uncooperative; peoples' lives go on regardless. On a farm or homestead, weather determines everything. It's why we got so much done on our master suite last summer - rain! If rain looks imminent, we'll jump to projects that will be effected by it: raking in the hay, getting that building project covered, garden picking, etc. We try to schedule working with the soil around it. Unexpected rain or snow can put a halt to the day's plans and make us change direction. That's why we keep an outdoor project and an indoor project in the works at all times.

Our routine is so intertwined with the weather and the land that I have gradually come to see ourselves differently in the grand scheme of things. I no longer see nature as something we simply observe, appreciate, and preserve; nature is something we are a part of. It isn't something we can put fences around, scatter educational placards throughout, and build pathways with a donation box at the end of the trail. It was never meant to be that way, but modern life, which is all wrapped up in technology, pretty much thinks it can go on without it.

One challenge to flexibility is work style. Dan and I have very different work styles. When Dan commences a project, he sticks with it until it's done. He doesn't like unfinished, loose ends. I'm the kind of person who has several projects in the works at any given time. I'm not actually a good multi-tasker, it's just that there's always a gardening project, kitchen project, housework project, and writing project all floating around in my day. Dan tells me he couldn't work like that, but I remind him that my projects are ongoing ones, while his are start-to-finish ones: new fencinginstalling a wood cookstove, installing a rainwater collection system, or building a new chicken coop. For me, there will always be dishes to do, weeding to do, laundry to do, meals to cook, food to plant, pick, or preserve, errands to run, etc. I suppose it's part of why that saying came to be "A man works from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done." Dan's projects can be marked with check boxes, mine are a lifestyle.

That doesn't mean developing a homesteading routine has been easy for me. I tend to get distracted by things that suddenly seem urgent, such as, "Oh no! The library books are due today!" In the beginning, especially, it was hard because there was so much to do. Then we got animals and were so thrilled when they ran up to us to beg for attention and food - so cute. One day I realized that the animals were dictating my day. The goats kept hollering to be fed earlier and earlier, and the chickens were jumping the fence to see if I had some tidbit to eat. I realized they needed a routine just as much as I did.

I do think there's a difference between spontaneity in the modern way of life and flexibility in an agrarian one. I think the worldly minded usually want flexibility to suit themselves. On the homestead, flexibility is required to suit everything else. I suppose that's why so many folks left the farm in the first place, for the freedom to not have to be flexible for the sake of everything else. Life appears so much simpler when everything appears to be predictable and one can be spontaneous simply for the fun of it.

Both Dan and I are still learning how to mentally balance routine with flexibility. There's a fine art of switching mental gears that neither of us has yet perfected. Sometimes we're mentally and emotionally set for one thing, but must switch to something else without losing motivation and enthusiasm. Hopefully we will someday be able to take it all in stride, simply saying, "It's all in a day's work".


Unknown said...

If you ever had to leave to attend a funeral or an unexpected event, do you have someone that can come live in and care for the animals and gardens. I imagine you'd have to be quite picky about your carer and then the animals would need to know them.

Dawn said...

I agree livestock need routine, that was the part I found easy with the move keeping them all to there routine and working around them, like you we have a good weather outdoor job list and a bad weather indoor list, I like routine and organisation but also like spontinaty and at times can be very impulsive.
Great post :-)

Farmer Barb said...

I learned from my Nature Center experience that if you set the hours of your feeding around the life you live (i.e. the open ours of the farm), the animals become accustomed to it. They don't care about daylight savings time. Set it and forget it! We were able to go on vacation this year because our 5th grade neighbor and her parents walked down and checked the water twice a day and looked out for signs of trouble.

I find that the weather has become a part of my life like family. Sometimes a loved one, sometimes a hated enemy. I have, however, stopped thinking that it is something that needs to be changed. I am grateful for that lesson.

I am like you with the army of projects. The Farmer's Husband doesn't have any projects other than the kids. It makes him nutty when he sees the chaos. It has for 16 years.

Renee Nefe said...

This post reminds me that having animals is probably not for me. Our dog gets fussy around the time changes because of course she's hungry and her dinner time just got moved. and right now I'm working on locating a new place for her to go when we go on vacation because our old sitter just moved.

Florida Farm Girl said...

Well said, dear girl. Well said.

Ed said...

My farming parents discovered the key to spontaneity was a good hired hand to come take care of the routine. Because full time hired hands are expensive, they ended up finding people who no longer live on the farm but yearn for that life and are willing to spend a week or two taking care of chores and such until my parents get back. The same fellow, a school teacher, has been their hired hand for the last decade.

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

I relate to this!!
We are fortunate that our youngest daughter decamps to here if we want/ need to go away.
There is a young boy in the village taking an interest in the bees and chickens. I am hoping that he will be interested in watering the hens and collecting eggs throughout the holidays, when our daughter does other things. I am going to talk to his mkother bbaout this this weekend

Kev Alviti said...

I grew up on a farm so I've always delt with it I suppose but I think my wife used to struggle with the being back so I could shut in the animals and water the plants.
I terrible for having loads of jobs running at once but I guess I do most of the jobs you described as "womans work" as well..!

Dani said...

I'm like Dan - I make myself a list (of major and trivial projects) and if I can strike each one off in the evening, I feel it was a good day. I don't like things lingering - it makes me feel overwhelmed.

RMan, on the other hand, isn't bothered and will do what he can, when he can. And , on occasion, let it linger until it gets to me and I have to remind him - like a light socket which still needs finishing . Bear in mind we've been in the house for 2 years lol

Leigh said...

Lynda, the one time I had to travel for a family illness worked out because none of the does were in milk. Dan took off work and did the chores leaving me free to take off for a week. That would be something that would be key, whether or not milking chores were included.

Dawn, thank you!

Barb, excellent point. Chores, especially with animals, can be set according to the caregiver's schedule. They don't care as long as you're on time! Very true about daylight savings as well. I once heard someone say it was so farmers could work more hours, but who ever said that didn't have to deal with livestock!

Renee, I hope you find someone you and Lilly like. I think animals are why some folks don't feel "free" with their lives. OTOH, they provide many things, which makes it worth it, I think.

Sue, thanks!

Ed, that sounds like the perfect solution.

Gill, another great solution! I think my daughter, son and daughter-in-law would be willing if need be, but none of them knows how to milk! Maybe lessons are in order. :)

Kev, yup. That so called woman's work is simply the job of whomever gets the home chores. And good for you for being a multi-tasker! That's a skill I need to improve upon.

Dani, gosh, has it been two years already? I think personality is very much part of work style. Maybe it's good in couples to have one of each. We keep each other on our toes. :)

Chris said...

I think I'm a little of both traits you saw at the co-op. I need an organised idea/plan of what to do, but then I become very flexible at how I achieve that goal. I have to be, because I'm a mum to a teen, a tot and a husband who has a working week off-site.

Then please throw the weather on top for some added variety of what I'm able to achieve too, lol.

I've got some thoughts on weather and plants (land management) brewing for the past few weeks. I managed to start a draft post but life requirements come first. I'll get there soon I hope.

But I think ultimately the more people align themselves with the land as a priority, the more our ideas of man-made organisation become superfluous. Our clocks are really set by nature, and it has always been the case. Mankind just stopped paying attention because of progressive distraction.

Mark said...

I find that I am mostly a "I like a routine" kinda guy. I'm also a bit like Dan in preference and a bit like you in practice. :) I like things best when I start a task and work on it to the exclusion of all else until it's done: Finish it up, Check the box,and move on. Unfortunately, unless the task is trimming my fingernails or getting the mail, I have SO many things going on it never works out that way in practice. Between the homestead, my professional life, the classes I teach and work I do at the Church, my role as county coordinator for the Amateur Radio Emergency Service, and my favorite tasks of husband, father, and 'papa', I always have many things needing attention that can't wait until it's convenient for me.

You wrote, "I think the worldly minded usually want flexibility to suit themselves. On the homestead, flexibility is required to suit everything else." I like that. There's something there that contributes to a bit of inner peace. I think it's a reminder that while it seems like I'm doing a dozen different things for a dozen different people, I'm really just busy doing the single lifework of one man. I'm trusting God to knit it all together, as His one plan for my life. It only sometimes feels chaotic because I focus on things as individual pieces rather simply parts of a greater whole.

helenabelle said...

Hi Leigh-I'm a lot like you, many irons in the fire but I always manage to get everything done. My husband and I are fairly new to homesteading, while we love this lifestyle and the rewards our hard work brings, one thing is certain, there ain't no sleeping in!!! No more lazy Saturday mornings in the suburbs. Our animals need and expect routine. When I'm off just a little, like this morning by 25 minutes, I here about it!

Nicole and Andrew said...

i always have lots of projects on the go, some are leisure projects like sewing or crochet etc and others that need to be finished in a timely manner, those get all my attention until im finished. my husband on the other hand starts something and sometimes needs reminding to get it finished as he will have moved onto something else. or he will start it and ill finish it and thats usually the case.

Su Ba said...

You brought up some really good points for me to mull over. Like you, I have the daily routine jobs that need to get done while hubby just focuses on one project.

Tuesday said...

8 days into our new adventure, we are working on finding a routine. There is no livestock, only trees and brush and hard, intensive labor. I work a 40+ hour a week job, my husband works from home and is very flexible. He lost 3 days this week because of the lovely Florida rain. It's a learning curve and we have a LOT to learn.

We will find our balance soon!

Woolly Bits said...

we have a similar parting of "characters" and chores over here:) and I have to admit that sometimes I'd like to have jobs that are finishable, too! the repeating things can be very tiring (and boring), because there is no end to them...getting out of that routine can sometimes be very refreshing (just back from a 2 week trip to germany:) - but of course it's far easier without having to look after animals. it would be quite difficult to leave if I had to milk or feed those... and I see flexibility as a necessity - and spontaneity as a luxury!