I have called myself a lifestyle woodworker for a decade on a public level but two when I include talking of it in more isolated pockets as in my woodworking classes and courses. In reality, though, I have practised it for much longer than that it’s just that the term lifestyle really didn’t exist before that on any appreciable level. I used the term first when I lived the different life I was better able to in Texas. I realised that my life choices were different to almost all others and that I was living a lifestyle different to most any person I ever knew or met or would ever be likely to meet and especially the UK. The Brits then and now have British idioms they live with or by. These are the non-negotiables for being British. I found it more challenging to live a lifestyle I might feel better attuned to in the UK for a few reasons not the least of which was the freeing culture of the US and Texas. The Texans I knew and met would defend the freedom to be yourself to the death whereas in Britain at least it seems better to defend your Britishness rather than your individuality. Before attaching the title lifestyle, I lived in a more relaxed culture but never a lazy one. Most people doing something like what I did worked a ten-hour day and a minimum of five days a week and more. That’s probably at least 15 hours a week more than the average Brit. There was no way I would have made it just working 35 hours in a work week. I was self-employed most of my life and most self-employed people involved in artisan woodworking forfeit the luxury of a 35-hour week. The difference for me was the integration of other work in the sphere in which I lived. I wanted my own ways of working to include times when and where I harvested my wood from the standing tree and followed on by swimming in the nearby river or lake to clean and cool off, experiment with materials, trial planes and saws, test new thoughts on new and as yet unseen joints for joinery. I no longer wanted moulding planes on shelves that weren’t set up and working and I did want to investigate the impact of the Industrial `Revolution on the lives of families now that the outcome could be seen more fully in amazing factory systems controlled by anonymous computer programs on one continent and implementing control on another. In my late teens a man called Harold Hope, a friend and mentor for a season, introduced me to the history of window taxes here in Britain. He took me under his wing and showed me buildings in different towns and villages where the windows had been bricked in or built up to avoid William IIIs window taxes, a tax on daylight going into the houses. This colourful part of Britain’s (also, France and Ireland, Scotland) past lasted for 55 years before it was repealed due to lack of light and fresh air causing ill health and death.
Lifestyle means settling the priorities important to you and the way you want to live. You must engineer your future by working on whatever parts of your life you can until you establish the better whole of it as much as possible. Key areas will be family, friend choices, food provision, work and the things that take energy and then being there for others. There are many more areas that can pull on that rarest of commodities, time, but this is good and enough for now.
As much as possible, making or deciding on life choices demands that you ultimately put many things pertaining to you and others close to you in order so that you don’t simply exist in your own bubble. Decisions you make will inevitably involve these others as mentioned and there are no assumptions. There are times when you must change the status quo of your simply existing in a default position to being proactive in some measure; to change the expectations you have and then the expectations of even those close to you inevitably means one or two hard conversations that are not always readily accepted. If you have children and are married or partnered, what you choose to do will automatically link attachedly to those that matter most. Some will be less connected to another adult and are thereby less impacted and then there are those some don’t expect to accommodate but inevitably may well do. A lifestyle engineered to include many important-to-you areas of life will inevitably result in a way or style of living that absorbs other influencing entities. Some things will be less comfortable to you than others but rarely can or should we do what is simply comfortable to us. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I cannot imagine anyone’s life being so isolated that nothing and no one else matters. This all then becomes part of your individual lifestyle or a shared lifestyle with significant others. In such cases, there will likely be shared energies going into some work and then some dedicated work as in my case where the main source of income-producing work and output direction is mine simply because woodworking comes from my brain and not a collective group. In my world of woodworking as a maker and designer and now writer and author artist and so on, I might consider the general work of making and teaching to be more unshared than collective but most of what io do relies still on the work being done to free me up to make life work for myself and the others too. The team I do work with is not the team of making the project with me but work on the opposite side of the camera and then the processing of all the videography.
I love growing but mainly growing for food. I have done this for a few decades now with some years being successful and others not. I will continue to do this even though I have had to make a cut there for the last two years simply because, as we have increased and my output takes much more time, the time has become a scarcer commodity but this is my choice and I refuse to let external circumstances govern my life. I have unfinished but very important business to complete as much as possible and that is in the provision of training for others yet to come. This will not be a forever thing. Currently, my life is about encouraging you toward changes and these changes involve the perceptions people have about craft being a mere hobby rather than a significant creativity that defies the word hobby to become as important as breathing, eating, family and whatever matters in life. Without a truly conscious decision, lifestyle intentions can quickly get crowded out. I liken this to those who retire thinking from here on they can decide what they want to do with this now mass of time they have to spend on what they want. Within a matter of months, they are saying things like, “I’m busier now than I was when I was working.” Well, being busy is rarely lifestyle of real value. Prioritising and planning are both essential life skills. Lifestyle cannot really be achieved by a casual approach unless the intention is to achieve nothing or very little.
Clearing the decks for a more productive and rewarding lifestyle might well mean tackling some of the more unpleasant tasks to dismantle opinions, concepts, established patterns of life and expectations you might not at first even be aware are there. These can be yours and they can be those of the dozen others in your life. People often use terms like, “You’ve got to be true to yourself.” Rarely do people qualify that beyond something not dissimilar to taking care of yourself which might also be reworded as ‘just take care of number one.‘ and so on. In the ever-increasing dominion of narcissism and to narcissists this will inevitably be the priority and this is not what I am encouraging at all. An ever-important part of lifestyling is communicating and don’t forget that procrastinating is more than often making a decision and saying or doing nothing which is more of a decision than not.
Clearing the decks can be something like the planned vegetable plot you want that almost always requires reclaiming the land. Here in the UK, I have seen almost an equal measure of unworked garden allotments as worked ones. These are often the hardest to renew because the abandoners would never face up to his or her giving up. Before it becomes available to you, the land may well have gone a good few years in wanton neglect though (of course, it is not always wanton). My uncle Ralph just became too old but he loved his allotment and went there just to see others growing too old and make himself a cuppa on his camp stove. His allotment went down and his children showed no interest to continue.
Anyway, starting out in a lifestyle might well mean your embracing nettles and brambles interlaced with a mass of every kind of weed you don’t really want. Pulling the deep roots of a former life allowing weeds to grow and remain situated for a decade is not always easy on the back, hands and other body parts. Only after this can you start actioning plans. No planting seeds for fruits you want to encourage in your life until the past is declared past. As it is with some would-be gardeners, the level of your determination and conviction will quickly evidence in the outcome of the work you do. I did indeed future-proof my work by investing my skills in my children and then too the children of at least a hundred or thousand more of others. More than a handful of woodworkers I trained became furniture makers developing their own lifestyles as woodworking people.
My garage workshop needed to be an important part of my life but the place was noticeably far too wet for serious making along with a level of comfort that is important in work. It was time for some deep digging to weed out faulty perspectives on damp proofing and insulation caused. If you want to feel a healthy regard for the tools and the wood to be kept permanently there and then use them there too, some remedial action was inevitable. The garage was gutted, old concrete and ground base lifted out, ground dug down a foot or so to install waterproof membrane, underfloor insulation and new concrete. I dry-lined the walls and insulated the whole to make the most remarkable difference because brick is not waterproof. Because this was an existing building, I wanted to keep what I had rather than demolish it. Today it’s completely dry and even heatable for winterised working. Yes, it was radical. perhaps I should have left it as it was and built a shed for half the cost but I didn’t want something there that could not be real, secure, fireproof and fully. functional long term
I have written of others in my life of woodworking. After five decades of working with people, I have come to realise that my dreams, hopes and ambitions might be theirs only for a short season if at all. What they expect might be different in the reality of its doing. It’s nice to include others in your day-to-day but you must be aware that how things start out is not necessarily going to reach into the long term. but I have fond memories of people’s past. perhaps more the handful rather than the whole. There can be no doubt that lives changed by being in my workshop for a year or two and longer. It can be sad and disappointing when you invest in the lives of others only to see them leave for reasons beyond themselves or yours. Some will be let downs in your expectations that you thought were theirs too but then there are the successes where others developed a new way of living a lifestyle according to their wishes. Some even left for the wrong reasons but found new life with the added element of woodworking to own for themselves.
Remember though to keep what had real value and try to restore sanity through your lifestyle. People are not stepping stones but it can sometimes feel that way as indeed you might sometimes feel that you were little more than a stepping stone. Hey! Even that works too. sometimes we are the scaffolding removed but another lives on when the scaffolding is removed.
Life for me is still about building and making. It’s about equipping others to make and hopefully finding their lifestyle.