This is a book that looks at “The Joys of a Life Less Complicated” from the viewpoint of a well known television presenter. Kate Humble is keen to stress that this is not a how-to book of survival techniques using purely natural items, but it does include some recipes to use garden produce, especially if you have a glut of such things as chillies. It does have examples of living in a hut or minimal accommodation, but acknowledges that it is not for everyone.
This is a book that looks at happiness in the simple things, rather than enormous salaries and sophisticated lives. The joys of walking, exploring and finding new ways around the countryside are extolled, along with discovering the fruit for free from hedgerows. This is not about expensive getaway cabins, but finding the importance of community effort and activities. The importance of repairing and reuse of household items, skills passed on through community hubs, and streamlining which household kitchen items are actually useful are central to this unusual book. Humble investigates the construction of houses from waste materials, especially useful in areas of natural disaster, at first hand for a very personal book. It is an honest read, as gardening failures are acknowledged and the limitations of some of the projects explored. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book which has a lot to say about how we live.
The book opens with a section on Humble and her husband living for short periods in a small cabin in France. She compares this with Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” which tells the story of the author’s own staying in a cabin for two years. While washing the entire laundry load by hand does not appeal to Humble, she does indulge in her own cabin adventures for limited periods which include constructing a satisfactory woodpile. On a less adventurous note, clearing out cupboards is shown as cathartic and rationalising the first aid kit a positive thing. The urge to put the garden on an organised footing involves obtaining help and laying out ambitious plans for planting specific flowers and vegetables. While it is labour intensive and there is expense involved, and despite a lot of planning, not everything grows and somethings simply disappear. There is a section about the repair of household items, and the spread of “Repair Cafes”, where people can bring broken or worn items and learn how to repair them in the company of others. This has the benefit of meeting people of various ages as well as the intrinsic repair of the items and extending their life. She also visits a site which makes “earthship” housing, simple buildings using materials such as old tyres and bottles, learning skills which can be transferred across the world. She admits that there are problems with using concrete – this is an honest look at the positives and negatives of situations. My favourite part were examples of the Shed Movement about men who seek company, to share skills but also simply communicate.
This is a carefully written and honest assessment of what can make us happy in today’s world. Humble is keen to stress that it’s not about money or earning high wages, quoting examples of people who have chosen to leave highly paid jobs to cook or garden, look after wildlife sanctuaries or build alternative houses. I did think that it is a little idyllic, presupposing health and the ability to set up alternative lifestyles financed from past work. Overall though this is a book which shows small steps to improve life in many ways, some of which would be achievable for most people. A very readable book written in an approachable style, this is a fascinating book which I recommend to anyone who wants to consider alternatives or new emphasis in life.