Recent generations have migrated from the craft trades centered on defined skills to the knowledge economy ushered in by the near full adoption of technology and the access it provides.
Plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and the like were once seen as noble lifelong pursuits. That began to change with the knowledge economy. Proficiency with hands-on skills gave way to Google searches and specialized providers that have been dwindling in number. A journey to master a craft skill became less valued and is often seen now as being filled by those that couldn’t make it in the knowledge economy as a programmer, serial entrepreneur, or high-tech guru. And that assumption couldn’t be more false.
Today, we look to replace rather than repair. We outsource rather than looking for answers from within.
To me, this seems counterintuitive. With such powerful knowledge available at our fingertips – just a few clicks away in most cases – why would we not use that opportunity to search for answers, educate ourselves, and apply the lessons learned firsthand?
Anyone can learn a traditional craft skill as simple as a basic sewing stitch technique or as complex as large scale carpentry right from the comfort of their living room with nothing more than a tablet and an internet connection.
So why aren’t more people doing that? Perhaps it’s our mindset, one that looks first for the easy button rather than the means to accumulate valuable skills that will help to insure the success and enhancement of our modern steader experience.
Art versus Utility
When we speak of craft skills we are talking about the entire set of skills relating to hands-on creation. That would include artists and plumbers, sculptors and electricians.
For the purpose of this lesson though, we’ll focus on the crafts that provide practical utility to a modern steader whether that includes a 100 acre homestead or one centered on a highrise apartment in Lower Manhattan.
Regardless of whether the craft creates function or beauty the number of skill craftsmen have been dwindling thanks in large part to the knowledge economy which so highly regards intellectual pursuits over those more centered on creations by hand.
The knowledge possessed by previous generations has fallen through the cracks of history, particularly since the Great Depression, and we’re in jeopardy of losing that knowledge store.
Proficiency is enough
Building a homestead of any size requires persistent hard work but we all have to start somewhere. As the saying goes, bloom where you’re planted. And that’s sage advice for any modern steader.
Unleashing your curiosity will allow you to explore the craft skills that will help you to outsource less to others and manage the financial aspects of the homestead more effectively.
Consider the cost for mending a button on a shirt. The gas to drive to the tailor, their fee, and the gas to go back to pick it up may not amount to a mortgage payment but it’s far more than the cost of a Google search and a small sewing kit. It would be easy to learn how to do mend the shirt yourself. And if we’re being honest, it’s not high level sewing either.
It’s important to realize that for any craft skill – carpentry, sewing, basic electrical repair – your needs are typically very basic and could be met with a little research and some basic tools. Of course, if you are building an addition on your home the task of wiring it may be something that requires a professional. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Time is money…and so is money
That may not be the most elegant title for this section but it rings true.
Consider all of the small challenges that we choose not to address ourselves but rather outsource to others for solving. Mending a shirt, snaking a toilet, refinishing a piece of furniture, battling a pesky pest, landscaping the property, installing a ceiling fan or dimmer switch. You get the picture.
When we choose to outsource those tasks if often requires us to make time to find and contact the provider. We usually have to wait a day or two for them to fit us into their schedule. We pay them for their service which typically includes the time not just for the repair but also the time to setup, diagnose, and pack up their tools after completion.
In other cases, like the example above involving a tailor, we spend time in the car and money on gas.
What is the real cost of that repair that you just outsourced to someone else? It’s the time you lost and the money you paid. If you think through what a recent situation cost you I’d bet you’d find that it was far more costly than it would have been if you’d just looked for the information you needed to do it yourself.
The practical application of craft skills
We learned less from our parents about craft skills than they did from theirs. The public school system has trimmed the exposure to craft skills as well. Less time is giving to the arts which served as the main avenue for introducing such skills. Home Economics and Wood Shop are long gone from most districts and with that so are the skills.
Kids no longer learn sewing, pottery, metalwork, basic carpentry, or candle making. Do you remember any of those from Shop or Home Ec? I do.
The critical realization is that those skills – all of those skills – have a place on the homestead. The process can save you money and time, bring joy through the experience, and foster a greater sense of self reliance.
Consider pottery, for example. The applications are numerous. Developing your skills on a potter’s wheel could produce the cups, bowls, and plates you use on a daily basis and reflect your artistic eye. Become proficient enough, and it could be a revenue stream.
Carpentry has unlimited applications on a homestead. Building a chicken coop, compost bin, planter boxes, or making repairs to your structures could save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year.
And as a final example, consider the application of masonry skills on the homestead. A basic knowledge of stone laying techniques could yield a very appealing aesthetic which exists in my personal homestead vision. Making your own bricks and knowing how to lay them would allow you to put your mark on the family homestead. And that’s just awesome!
Become the student and the teacher
As I began outlining this lesson I continually came back to the notion of teaching my kids. My own inhibitions – as a self-proclaimed perfectionist – seemed to suggest that I must master something before I could teach it.
I played basketball through college and now coach my 6 year old son’s team. Seems natural. I learned to cook at an early age from my mother who did it professionally and now I have two little ones helping me prepare dinner each night. Sounds about right.
But what occurred to me as I began writing this lesson is that I’ve been overlooking opportunities to share the journey with them. This fall I reluctantly agreed to coach my son’s soccer team with very little practical knowledge of the game. We spent hours on YouTube watching videos together, learning together, and discussing the sport. I was both the student and the teacher.
And you should embrace that role as well. Share the journey with your spouse or your children. Pull a friend into the mix and learn together. Regardless of which craft skill you tackle first you can always include others in the process.
The line between learning and teaching is a fine one and unlike coloring with Crayons as a kid we all benefit from going outside the lines.
The homework assignment
This one is dead simple. The next time you pick up your cell phone to call someone to fix an issue you have, just stop. Turn to your friends, your neighbor, or the web for answers. Find a way to solve the problem on your own.
Then share that knowledge with someone else.
About the “Foundation Series” lessons
Our Foundation Series course is part of your free membership and allows you to explore the fundamental beliefs and core concepts of homesteading in the modern world. You get two new lessons delivered to your inbox each week for a total of 21 lessons. Just like this lesson, each one contains the links to the previous lessons.
Be sure to keep an eye out for new lessons in your inbox each week!
Start with our Foundation Series overview: Introduction to the 7 Core Values of the Modern Steader
Here’s the list of previous lessons for your reference:
- 7 habits of highly successful modern steaders
- Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort
- The physical and mental challenges of the modern steader lifestyle and why it’s all worth it
- Why Connected Self-Reliance?
- 25 evaluation benchmarks for establishing your Self-Reliance Baseline
- Learning Self-Reliance: 3 ways to change your world view
- Drawing the line between Want and Need
- Pursuing a Different Kind of Knowledge
- The Knowledge Vault for Modern Steaders
- Lost Inheritance: How we are running the risk of losing some craft skills forever
- 7 sustainable practices your Grandma never taught you