I think I would have bristled at the notion that efficiency and resilience were negatively correlated if it had been presented to me as such, and this despite the fact that in retrospect, I’ve spent a lot of time and money thoughtfully creating inefficient redundancies in my life. I would have bristled because I both misunderstood the ultimate meaning of efficiency, and because I would have viewed its opposite as waste as defined by extravagances and useless pursuits. When Kunstler rails against “just in time” delivery of materials and “warehouses on wheels” of course, he is making the same point, but somehow I failed to see it in my own life.
So I’ve been looking at my life through the lens of redundancy as a check to see just how resilient the different aspects of my life really are. Before embarking on a category by category analysis though I start by looking at my relationship with my wife. We have very similar world views but our way of looking at problems is very different: nothing could be better if the goal is arriving at solid conclusions. It almost goes without saying that all of this, which is to say all of the redundancies in our lives, would be viewed as wasteful by the other if we differed in our Weltanschauung.
Regarding something as simple as food, we have a well stocked pantry and always keep our freezers filled with staples. We have an arrangement with a local farmer who not only supplies us directly with eggs, pork, and poultry, but who has also allowed us to invest in him and in his family and his farm such that we can call upon his help in any sort of food emergency. We have a relationship with a CSA in our neighborhood and receive weekly “half shares” in the produce they deliver, and, of course, we grow our own garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, grapes, peaches, cucumbers as well as other foods and my wife cans them as appropriate.
My house contains its own redundancies of shelter. Right now it is an attached single family home with a finished basement/guest bedroom. It has been a three story townhouse with an English basement apartment. With some effort it could be anything from 3,000 square feet of commercial office space with an apartment, to 4 apartments, to a townhouse with apartments above and below. My wife and I often discuss the twists and turns which might cause us to live in one part of the building while renting the remainder to others. It’s even conceivable that we could live in the house and it would still provide enough income for us to get by. For now we wastefully occupy the entire structure. With my older daughters out of the house and on their own that’s 3 people in 3,500 square feet of living space.
Apart from the flexibility of the space, we’ve benefited greatly from redundancies in heating. My wife and I refurbished the basement of our home when she moved in with her daughter in part to give my older girls a space to be in the home that was as private as they wished it to be. In doing so we repaired an old forced hot air gas furnace to provide the space with heat. Last Tuesday at 1:30 a.m. that decision came back to benefit us greatly as our nearly 40 year old gas boiler suddenly developed a giant crack and needed replacing. In January. In Massachusetts. We had contracted a local mason/chimney sweep to install a brand new wood stove in August, but that project had been delayed by foot dragging on his part so our only recourse was running the aforementioned furnace in the basement and leaving the doors open allowing the heat to rise to the rest of the house.
Kicking on about three times an hour it kept the house at between 57-60 degrees for the five days it took to get the new boiler installed. Letting as much sunshine in as possible, doing some opportunistic baking, and throwing a space heater into the upstairs bathroom on cold mornings got us through without having to vacate the house. If worse had come to worse we could have vacated the upper three floors and lived in the nice, warm basement.
In retrospect, the last 9 months have been a disaster. My mother died which, apart from the emotional toll on the family, has given us thousands upon thousands of dollars of unexpected expenses which may be reimbursed if her home can sell for 60% or so of its taxable value; given its issues, that’s not a guarantee. The city is modernizing the sewer/storm water runoff systems in our neighborhood…which sounds good…until the work destroys the old clay connector to you and your neighbors’ homes and you have to pay a contractor to install brand new pipes. After that, as mentioned, came the boiler disaster.
Fortunately, living in a very unstylish part of town means that demands on our income from mortgage payments, taxes, and insurance are minimal, which gives us a rather large buffer. We have 3 income sources in the home and, as previously mentioned, the potential for a third if we rented out the apartment. We could survive on either my income or my wife’s income, and possibly on a combination of our third income and an apartment rental…at least for a time.
The result has been that even in this year of losing a good $30,000 to unexpected expenses and spending another rather large sum on energy upgrades to the home and other things we’ve managed to maintain a moderate level of savings and have not had to resort to using credit.
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There are many other aspects of life, of course, but I’m happier living redundantly when it comes to the basics. As walkable a place as my neighborhood is, I still need a car, or a ride from someone who has a car, to get to work: the community where I live and the one in which I work are not at all connected by public transit. We’d probably own a car even if I could walk or take a bus to work, but I wish I didn’t need to own one. I need to develop more skills. I’m a language teacher, and being multi-lingual has other uses, of course, but I need to learn some other more practical skills as well. My wife is becoming an expert canner, gardener, baker, and is contemplating getting some training in the medical field. Widening our circle of friends would be good, as well as maintaining the close connections we have to family. Living redundantly is not something you do alone…or by yourself…or on your own for that matter.