For some people, one of the hardest things to do in life is to start something new. Yet, back on March 29, 2014, when we moved from the suburbs of DC to the rural foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the intent of creating a sustainable paradise, I dove in without an inkling of apprehension.
In fact, it wasn’t hard at all. Because I desperately needed it. My old life was dragging me under like a strong riptide. I could feel my time on earth being cut short by stress and health problems and my joy being crushed by forces beyond my control.
Leaving — starting a new life built on dreams that made sense — was life-saving. Also, I wasn’t alone. Matt was with me and we had the overwhelming support of both our families. This has certainly made a huge difference.
Now, almost three years in, we still have no regrets in making this decision. Our landscape has been unrecognizably transformed from the blank slate we started with into something well on its way to being Eden-like.
The photo below is the “after” shot of the scene at the top of this posting, taken around our two year anniversary. And this is only the beginning of what two people with strong community, the internet, and a ton of great books can do when motivated. Yet, transforming the landscape is only one part of building a sustainable life.
reLuxe Ranch is the name of our homestead, but the idea of “reLuxe” is also kind of our guiding principle. Whenever I try to pin down exactly what it means in just a few words, it sounds like a corny self-help slogan (e.g. the tagline for this blog home page). So, let me try to explain it better.
If you have access to this internet blog you are living in, or surrounded by, the most obscene kind of luxury imaginable. Maybe it doesn’t look like a Condé Nast vacation scene, but you’ve got electricity, some kind of computer, your fingers are warm enough to type and browse. My guess is you can pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee and grab a snack if you want one.
Your life is built on the backs of a global work force made up of some people whose living conditions are so inferior to yours, that if some magical cosmic event caused you to switch places for a year, you probably would not survive the experience. Your luxury lifestyle immune system, based on high levels of sanitation thanks to electricity, refrigeration, and running water, wouldn’t know how to respond if you drank river water loaded with fecal matter, ate foods with bacterial contaminants uncommon in industrialized countries, or had to reside next to communal toilets that don’t flush.
Mine is too! So, this is not intended as a criticism. Just a reality check.
So, reLuxe is first about realizing we are living a life of luxury, even if we don’t have our own yacht or island vacation home, and even if we are barely scraping by. I am not saying your life isn’t hard or that your stress isn’t real. I am just saying that we’ve got resources for finding our way out of our challenges that people living in worse conditions would consider to be unimaginable luxuries. If you need inspiration on this point, do an internet search for trash pickers in Haiti and see what turns up.
Once we start to see all the practical luxuries available to us, then the goal is to use what we’ve got to transform our lives into something really meaningful, enduring, and beautiful. As in, a life full of real luxuries. But since we aren’t the only people on the planet, and things won’t ever get better until we all come to terms with the idea of only using our fair share of resources, reLuxe also embodies the “re” in all those important tools for sustainability like re-using, re-purposing, recycling, restoring, and other important environmental concepts like resiliency and rejuvenation.
As I said, reLuxe is a guiding principle for me. An aspiration. It’s not something I’ve attained. Frankly, I’d call myself a novice at best. Because of all the advertising and brainwashing I’ve consumed in my 41 years of life, it still seems more luxurious to run out to the store and buy of a bottle of French wine with an excellent bouquet and subdued fruity qualities, than to sit on the slope of our little vineyard, eat a sun warmed grape, and experience our own terroir in situ. But I am trying to reset my luxury meter and recognize real luxuries when I encounter them.
There is also a subtlety to the idea of reLuxe. Similar to developing your palette and the expressive language needed to fully enjoy and extol the virtues of a fine bottle of well-aged wine, the art of reLuxe is an acquired skill. With thoughtful recognition and appreciation, I hope to one day truly embrace those special experiences that can’t be bought and value them appropriately. You can’t buy a perfect sunset or the magic of that first spring day and yet thoroughly enjoying them can result in some of the most luxurious experiences of a lifetime.
This blog is going to be a kind of contemplation space for me. I want to record some of what we are doing at the reLuxe Ranch. But I also want to create a writing room where I can actively think about and share ( just in case it is helpful to others) my evolving understanding of what it means to reLuxe.
We all have challenges ahead of us. We all need to make changes. We each need to find personally meaningful ways of doing this. I don’t think anyone has, or ever will, come up with the perfect answer. And honestly, we all know that it will be too late if we sitting around waiting for answers to magically appear. We have to start somewhere. It might as well be here and now.
This is a record of my personal attempt.