Simple living, extreme early retirement, being wealthy, ...
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Post by conwy » Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:12 pm

I want to take the popular idea of home-steading and turn it on its head.

In home-steading, the aim is to live as independently and self-sufficiently as possible, typically in a more rural or suburban setting.

In city-steading, the aim is to live as independently and self-sufficiently as possible in a highly urban or semi-urban setting.

I think that, contrary to some popular opinions, there are many ways to live more independently and intelligently in the city, minimising your costs and maximising financial stability and quality of life. I want to start exploring this idea, perhaps eventually even build my own website or community around the idea (if someone else doesn't beat me to it!).

The case for cities

Cities form a large part of the future of human beings, to the extent that there is a future. Cities enable efficiencies of scale in production and consumption. Cities have infrastructure that makes them resilient to extreme weather events, political changes, shortages of commodities. Even in the event of a nuclear strike, as what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cities recover and are rebuilt (as both of those cities were).

Urbanisation is a long-term trend in human evolution. We started off as small, dispersed, disconnected tribes. Everyone knew everyone else in their tribe and tribes knew little to nothing about other tribes, or at least those outside their immediate geographic vicinity. We have only been moving in the direction of clumping together into bigger tribes, being more connected and integrated and living in closer proximity to other humans.

Independence and dependence

I don't view independence vs dependence as a monolithic and mutually exclusive dualism.

As a programmer, I am daily dealing with systems that feature dependencies and independencies. One of the post powerful principles I apply to this problem is 'cohesion over coupling'. This simply means that we put those things together which benefit from being together and keep those things apart which benefit from being kept apart.

In a city, there are things that I prefer to depend on others for. This is because I think others can do those things better than I can (specialisation of labor, efficiencies of scale and other differentiators).

Some examples where I think I benefit from dependence:

Police & law courts. I don't want to carry a heavy firearm with me. I'd rather live in a stable society in which people don't attack eachother and police contribute to enforcing that. I want to be able to make contracts with a degree of certainty that they will be enforced. A legal system that protects property helps with this.

Basic groceries. I'll never be as efficient and effective at growing food as large farms will be, even taking into account the cost of transporting the food to the city. I'm happy to rely on supermarkets for basic food items.

Investment decisions. I'm not a professional investor of any kind. I don't have a deep knowledge of markets built up over decades of focussed, intelligent effort. I prefer to delegate my choice of investments to an index fund or a good active fund. Those mechanisms are likely to yield better results than investing on my own.

On the other hand, there are plenty of things I don't want to have to depend on others for. I am in a better position to make decisions than others. Also, others may not have an incentive to make choices that are in my interests.

Some examples where I think I benefit from independence:

Diet. There have been a lot of overhyped fads in diet over the ages - paleo, low-fat, etc. etc. There seems to be very little incentive (financial or otherwise) for businesses to promote a healthy diet. I've invested a significant amount of time self-educating on diet, as well as experimenting with what foods work well with my digestion, what tastes good, etc. This is an area where I think I can make much better choices on my own, rather than relying on what's marketed to me by business interests.

Location. For many reasons, specific locations seem to matter less and less these days. Work opportunities are spread out fairly evenly among the major cities, so I don't have to live in a specific location in order to find work. Language isn't a barrier - most of the world cities speak one common language (English, Mandarin, etc). Family and friends can be contacted over the phone or video chat, and cheap flights, trains, buses, etc, make it not hard to take holidays or weekends to visit them. The same basic food items are available in all cities. All cities have hospitals, etc. Basically, city environments have become more and more homogeneous with regards to living necessities. This means that I can only benefit from being location-independent. The more flexible I can become, with regards to location, the more easily I can move to take advantage of low rents, living closer to work, moving to more pleasant areas of the city, etc.

Employment. The days of the 'company man/woman' seem to be long gone. Unless you're entrepeneurial or work in a unique business context, a lot of time, there's little benefit to staying with one employer for life. The downside is some temporary turbulence, akin to stock market ups and downs. The upside is greater choice, variety, flexibility and opportunity. It's easier to find work that matches the kind of lifestyle you want to live. If you have a particular passion, you can find work that is related to that passion. If you just want an easy job where you can 'zone out' and live your life outside of work, those seem to exist also, from gig economy work to lifestyle businesses.

Finances. Though I delegate long-term investment decisions to market actors, I do want to be in control of my cash-flow and financial decisions. I want to invest 50-75% of my income while I'm working. I want to live a low-cost lifestyle. I want to be able to maintain an income while I'm out of work. All of these goals are best achieved when I am in control of my spending and saving.

City 'user experience'

My interest in city-scaping goes far beyond optimisation and financial independence.

I'm interested in optimising the 'user experience' of city living for myself and others.

This is somewhat subjective, as different people desire different experiences. However I think some tools and tactics can be broadly applicable.

Some themes that come to mind:

Walking/Transit/Movement How do we make moving through the city a pleasant, even delightful, experience? I've improved this by finding nice walking and jogging routes that take me through pleasant parts of the city while keeping fit and avoiding pollution. Also, having a small light backpack with only the things I need, also makes for a comfortable, convenient and low-cost day trip.

Fitness Where can you work out? Where are the cheap work out areas? Are some gyms nicer than others? Can you make money while keeping fit, e.g. dog walking?

Data. How do you find cheap WiFi? What are the cheapest data plans/packs? How do you download content to save on data?

Food. How eat food that tastes good, is healthy, is cheap, is convenient and is available to you when you need it? I don't want to eat expensive, unhealthy fast-food. But I also don't want to carry around a portable stove and propane canister and fry eggs on the footpath in front of pedestrians. So what are some intelligent ways to optimise the eating experience while living in a city? My 'two bags strategy' is a recent effort to solve some of the above problems.


So there you have it - my first stab at optimising extreme saving in a city living context!

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by horsewoman » Sat Oct 05, 2019 2:24 am

As a homesteader I agree with you that intelligent lifestyle design is probably easier in a densely populated area.
I love my homestead in the middle of nowhere but there a great drawbacks to it, the freedom, silence and space comes a high cost.
We need two cars, after several trials to make it work with one car we gave up on this, at least until our child is is out on her own. Maintenance costs to our many buildings are high and labor intensive.
The next grocery shop is located after 5 miles of rangy, narrow roads that are used heavily by lorries and large agricultural vehicles - riding a bike is simply not very safe here (my top-notch street racing bike, which is packed up safely in the attic can attest to that! Need to sell it...). Clothes, shoes or hardware stores are 18 miles off.
We grow some of our own food, but I could not manage easily without going grocery shopping at least every two weeks. In warmer climates it might be easier to produce more food.

I don't agree at all on your point about the police (with the caveat that here in Germany no one needs or is indeed allowed to carry a gun, so I have zero fear of being shot.) In rural areas everyone knows their neighbors and strangers have it much harder to make mischief. We have also dogs to protect us, and while one might argue that those dogs cost money I'd have a dog everywhere.

You make good points if one is purely interested in living the most efficient life, city dwelling beats rural homesteading hands down. I always smile a little when homesteading is touted as the frugal dream. It is no such such thing (and luckily not the reason why we got into it). It's often hard, dirty, lonely and expensive. But on the other hand, there a lots of people that are not made for the bustle, noise and anonymity of a city. For me the trade off is worth it, but I think it is a worthwhile endeavor to make people question their rose-tinted view of homesteading.

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by Jason » Sat Oct 05, 2019 9:42 am

conwy wrote:
Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:12 pm
Even in the event of a nuclear strike, as what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cities recover and are rebuilt (as both of those cities were).
Well, whatever city you decide upon, you would be a great asset to their tourism department.

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by unemployable » Sat Oct 05, 2019 11:58 am

Counterpoint: Hell is other people. Basically what money buys you is separation from having to deal with others, or put another way, buys you the ability to chose whom you want to have around you and under what terms.

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by Jason » Sat Oct 05, 2019 12:33 pm

I fail to find the "stead" in any of this. I actually don't think its possible. You can't go off the grid in a city, unless you're going to squat in some shit hole and tap into public utilities. Beyond using the closest Starbucks for free Wifi or identifying parks with the fewest junkies, I'm not sure where this is going. Plus, "the case for cities" is well, uninformed. It was not a long term trend in evolution, it was a outgrowth of changes in economic systems - agrarianism hyphen decline in feudalism to commerce based industrialization and the popularity and health of urban areas have proven to be cyclical (watch the history of sitcoms or read a book written at the turn of the century). US cities are large areas with a multitude of neighborhoods that were at one point in their history ethnic ghettos. And personally, I never felt so isolated as when I lived in NYC. It was fucking Kafkaesque. But that's just me.

For anyone interested in the topic, I would start here, because it starts with planning: ... can_Cities

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by TheWanderingScholar » Sat Oct 05, 2019 2:11 pm

Yeah, none of this seems to be city "steading" as described in the post.

Honestly, at best you live in an urban area with a backyard which you maximize the food production from what little land you have*, installing solar panels to be less dependent on on energy coming in**, and able to transport yourself across areas by your own strength***. Beyond that you have to conform to city regulations and live in areas, you are still reliant upon the local energy grid, public infrastructure just like everyone else. And you might not even own the land citystead upon

Now is there something wrong with living in cities? No, however most American cities are shit to be quite frank with you need a shitload of retooling to actually make them worthy of the title "city". Cities in North America are from what I have lived seems to be fester and contribute to an isolation which affects the mindset of people living there.

*Chicken and veggies more or less plus dehydration and canning.
**Which is honestly expensive as fuck.
***Honestly the only advantage over traditional homesteading.

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by _bb_ » Sat Oct 05, 2019 9:14 pm

conwy wrote:
Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:12 pm
Walking/Transit/Movement How do we make moving through the city a pleasant, even delightful, experience? I've improved this by finding nice walking and jogging routes that take me through pleasant parts of the city while keeping fit and avoiding pollution. Also, having a small light backpack with only the things I need, also makes for a comfortable, convenient and low-cost day trip.
I refer to this as going for a city-hike! I can make a day out of it, I'll bring a backpack, water and snacks and set off in search of a new "look out". Instead of viewing trees and mountains I mostly people watch (something of a favorite past time). Just like a "traditional" hike in nature, I always find something that makes the trip memorable.

I really like the concept of "city-steading" and am trying to practice it myself, more for personal enjoyment/experimentation than anything. For me it is a way to practice concepts that will be useful when we do move out of the city. So far my activities have included growing vegetables and composting on the balcony. Additionally, I've just begun putting together a solar powered system to power lights and various electronics in the apartment (ultimately not cost effective, but it is super fun 8-) ).

Given the limited amount of space there is no way we could be entirely self sufficient, however it is fun experimenting and developing the skills necessary with the future in mind.

On the topic of food, one of the big advantages of the city is the accessibility of food (depending on your neighborhood). Personally, we use the majority of our kitchen storage space for dry goods (oats, beans, pasta etc) and will pick up produce on our walk home from work. As you would expect, this allows us to buy just what we need for the day and no vegetables go to waste or end up rotting in the fridge.

Keep it up and let us know of the progress, maybe there will be a few ideas I can "borrow" in my own city :D .

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by George the original one » Wed Oct 09, 2019 12:26 pm

_bb_ wrote:
Sat Oct 05, 2019 9:14 pm
As you would expect, this allows us to buy just what we need for the day and no vegetables go to waste or end up rotting in the fridge.
Your vegetables don't go to waste, but that storefront is tossing out stuff you never see in order to supply you with the best & freshest-looking produce. Try sniffing around their dumpster to see the hidden world that you're not acknowledging. And further back up the supply chain, there's a lot more discarding that you're not seeing, though hopefully those supplies are going for compost or animal feed.

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Re: CitySteading™️

Post by Jin+Guice » Thu Oct 10, 2019 10:09 am

I like the idea of CitySteading as I've recently been reading a few homesteading books but also prefer to live in a city. I don't think the case really needs to be made for cities, it comes down to personal preference.

I am in agreement with the detractors that there isn't a lot of "steading" going on in the OP. While I agree that an advantage of the density of cities is being able to use and be used by others more efficiently/ effictively for common goals, a main reason for homesteading is the multitude of problems involved in industrial agriculture. I think learning about these problems and their potential fixes in an urban environment should be at the forefront of CitySteading. There are already people working in this area (though maybe not calling it CitySteading), so it shouldn't be too difficult.

Delineation needs to be made between those with arable land and those without. I live in a city, but I live in a house. Frankly I prefer to live in an apartment and the vile yard is what got me interested in homesteading in the first place. Even a small amount of land that you personally control is a different game than needing to use strictly common land.

@GTOO: Great point. I would say that scavenging should be a primary concern for the CitySteader. An enterprising CitySteader could attempt to leverage their proximity to the decision makers in the waste stream.

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