Moving away from the 9-5
May 15, 2014 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Recent life changes and ongoing thinking about the future have driven me to explore an escape from the high pressure 9-5 working world, and a move into a life that is more community-driven and compassionate. What are some ways someone on a low income can free themselves from the treadmill?

This is something I've been thinking about for some time, but I've been triggered into wanting to actually take steps and do something towards it by my work situation - the organisation I work for is under constant financial pressure and we're now in the death spiral of monthly "we might not be able to make payroll" warnings, which is an obvious "get out! now!" sign. But instead of just jumping ship from one crap, low-paid dead-end job to another, I've been really strongly considering an alternative, simpler way of living. I just can't see myself doing office work forever; I'm already nearly 30 and quite unhappy at a deep level. I feel like the office-worker lifestyle is affecting my health - I have been diagnosed with anxiety, I'm putting on weight, I'm feeling lethargic and sedentary and downright sad.

I feel driven towards working in a less structured environment - not because I am shy of work, but because of the opposite, I want to work, rather than sit in front of a screen all day long not doing very much at all. There are lots of stories out there about people who've quit the 9-5 and survived perfectly well, and it makes me wonder why it's not something I could also do. I feel like my life is currently of so little value that the only people who'd notice if I fell off a cliff would be people I normally pay, like my landlord - I feel like a human ATM, a source of income for others, and little else. I don't have a career goal, and frankly I get frightened when people are super-competitive in terms of work and career and relationships. As long as I'm safe, warm, and fed I'm content.

A lot of the research I've done and the literature I've read on homesteading and 'trading down' seems to be targeted at people who are already in a better financial situation than me. Much of it assumes that you're looking to downsize from a highly-paid job and home ownership - so many of the simple living self-help books begin "first, sell your home". There's very little out there for people in my situation. I earn £18,000 a year, have a small four-figure sum in savings, and rent a home. I already live quite simply, I've never been an extravagant person. The capitalist / consumer lifestyle of competing with other people to progress up the career ladder, raising my salary, getting a slightly bigger house and a slightly bigger car and bigger loans to pay for it all feels like a nightmare to me, and after working for ten years non-stop from 18, I feel like I want something different. I'm unlikely to be a very good online 'remote worker' - I don't have any real in-demand computer skills, I'm not a programmer or anything like that, and in any case I'd rather avoid computer work. I'd be looking for more physical things to do.

Intentional communities and similar projects are something I've done a lot of reading around - working alongside others with a similar mindset to build and produce something tangible is an idea that really excites me. In the UK, we don't quite have the homesteading culture of people going off and doing their own thing on the land as much (because don't have the vast quantities of spare land that larger countries do) but we do have one or two organised intentional communities dotted around. But those aren't the only option - I'd like to hear all sorts of stories and experiences about how people have opted out of the 9-5 treadmill.

What pointers could you give me around alternative ways of living and surviving? I'm open to hearing any options, any thoughts or ideas - ways of opting out of the super-competitive capitalist consumerist society that I've found myself feeling ever so lost in, and finding my way into a slower, gentler, more communal and co-operative way of life. Inspire me!
posted by winterhill to Work & Money (15 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
As far as intentional communities are concerned, you might consider volunteering for a Camphill Community in the UK. They are actually international so if you wanted to leave the UK for a time to find yourself you could do that too. I am very familiar with a Camphill Community in Pennsylvania and they are really remarkable in a lot of ways. There is some ideological baggage attached but as a short term volunteer for a few years to find yourself, that isn't a problem. Each one is a little different with its own culture and some cater to children with mental disabilities whereas others are for adults. Maybe you have already explored this specific option but if you have not I recommend that you take a closer look.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:32 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hey, I'm you! Three years ago I worked at a high powered biotech company in a big city that basically ran out of money and let me go. I also really disliked the 9-5 desk job and yearned for a drastic change in lifestyle. So I cashed out my 401k that was only a few thousand dollars deep and moved to a ski town a few thousand miles away. Against a lot of my friends and families advice I moved to a place where I only knew one person and I had no job prospects, and it has turned out to be one of my very best decisions. It's not all gravy obviously, but this winter I worked three days a week renting cars and got to ski the other four. I'm basically in semi-retirement and my work related anxiety levels went from sky high to essentially non-existent.

If you may be getting laid off soon with the potential of collecting some sort of severance then I would wait it out and start to slowly save a bit more cash. A good first step for you might be looking into working on an organic farm somewhere and honing in on a place you might want to settle down in (tourist towns are ideal). If you don't like working behind a desk, do some menial customer facing jobs or manual labor. They aren't going to make you rich but you'll at least be capable of achieving your goal of being safe, warm and fed. And a few thousand bucks is really all it takes to get started. I totally recommend going on an adventure to find a new lifestyle, and you can memail me if you have any specific questions. Just pick a plan, pick up your stuff and go. I believe the hardest part is actually committing to such a huge change, but you can do it! Good luck!
posted by pwally at 7:50 AM on May 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

So I have a weird perspective on this, because I was raised in the back woods (of the US) by parents who moved back-to-the-land to escape the 9-5 rat race.

In some ways it was excellent -- tons of outdoor time, lots of things to learn. More free time. More project-based learning, more time to do things with your hands. Land for chickens and gardening. Much better values (well, I was raised in them, so of course I'd think that).

But realistically, they weren't able to grow everything we needed (especially healthcare), even on a large parcel of land. One or both of them have worked my whole life (usually both). Now, they haven't worked traditional 9-5s all of that time -- my father's job is very hands on and he went into business for himself in various ways. My mother now works an office job, but it's one that helps people in tangible ways. They enjoy living in a smaller community, but they do wish they had more time that wasn't spent working.

I have a friend (my age, early 30s; her parents were also back-to-the-landers) who now lives in an intentional community and has for many years. It works for her, but I'm not sure that it would work for everyone. I know it wouldn't work for me. It seems like a lot of politics goes on, even in her place, which is pretty supportive and well-run. As an introvert, I know I couldn't hack it.

It sounds like there's a lot going on in your situation. Some thoughts:

Can you find work that has meaning for you? There are office jobs where you can be helping people -- social work? Or if retraining is an option, you could consider a more active/hands-on career like nursing, landscaping, caretaking, etc, etc.

Can you move to a smaller community? A smaller place with a slower pace might be more comfortable for you, even if it isn't an intentional community.

The capitalist / consumer lifestyle of competing with other people to progress up the career ladder, raising my salary, getting a slightly bigger house and a slightly bigger car and bigger loans to pay for it all feels like a nightmare to me

You can work for capitalists and not share their values. Once you've gotten to a point where you personally are comfortable, you can give extra money and time to charities and causes you value instead of buying bigger houses and cars and loans. Having a job doesn't mean being on the hedonic treadmill; you can decide not to get on.

Also, I'm sure I won't be the only person to point this out, but:

I have been diagnosed with anxiety, I'm putting on weight, I'm feeling lethargic and sedentary and downright sad.

I feel like my life is currently of so little value that the only people who'd notice if I fell off a cliff would be people I normally pay, like my landlord - I feel like a human ATM, a source of income for others, and little else.

These kind of sound like something is going on beyond anxiety for you. Depression, maybe, or hypothyroid, or low Vitamin D -- something. I would really really recommend seeing your GP and asking them to at least run some bloodwork. There are some very real conditions that could be making this feel more insurmountable than it is; it's definitely worth taking care of yourself by having this looked into. Because you are worth it, and you shouldn't have to feel like this!
posted by pie ninja at 7:50 AM on May 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is something one doesn't suggest every day, but if it's compatible with your take on things, there are still such things as monasteries. But that takes preparation (in terms of getting acquainted with the place) and probably some saving up.

I'm associated with a Zen community, and have some good friends who live full-time at a temple in Sweden. It's a very different lifestyle, involving tons of meditation and plenty of work, but they're happy people and the time I've spent there has been extremely meaningful.

Myself, I don't have an immediate urge to get out, and I enjoy my job enough, but I still get a lot of value and meaning from associating with this kind of community, meeting friends on weeknights for zazen at the city center, and so on.

These days, I suppose most visitors to "Western" Zen monasteries & temples are laymen who go occasionally for retreats. Dunno if you're into meditation at all, but going to retreats every now and then, or just visiting, is a pretty powerful way to realign yourself, so to speak.
posted by mbrock at 7:59 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's completely valid to know your situation is not working for you, that is valid information and it's ok to be upset about it! You could also look into having a roommate that's interested in meal sharing and hang outs. I'm hope you get more responses about off the grid job ideas or training or living communities in the UK!To me the healthier I get the more confident I feel that a lot of lifestyles people feel forced to accept are not healthy for themand working against accepting unhealthy living conditions is a part of health. Still working with a therapistight be something you can do to get some guidance and support creating the life you really want, and finding and connecting with the sorts if people you want to build community with, and also getting any support with things that are making it hard fir you to do that.
posted by xarnop at 8:07 AM on May 15, 2014

Thank you so much for all your really interesting and inspiring answers so far! I've spotted the Camphill communities through my own research and it's something I'm looking into. :)

> Can you move to a smaller community? A smaller place with a slower pace might be more comfortable for you, even if it isn't an intentional community.

I already live in a small village - but I commute to and work in a big city centre. To make the commute more tolerable, I'm moving closer to work next week, but still in a small suburban community. Here, you really have to choose your village carefully. Because the population is a lot more dense here, many rural villages are little more than commuter dormitories with very little in the way of community.

Please do keep the answers coming - they are all very much appreciated! :)
posted by winterhill at 10:10 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I already live in a small village - but I commute to and work in a big city centre.

I was thinking more of somewhere where you could live and work in the same community -- not commute elsewhere to work. Ideally the location would be far enough away from a big city center that it isn't much of a commuting town. (I grew up in a very small town that was quite far from even a medium-sized city. The downside is that the job market is generally terrible. The upside is that the community is much closer-knit.)
posted by pie ninja at 10:18 AM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

First off, good on you for realizing this stuff now. Careers are not for everyone. I don't know much about life in the UK, but you do have a big advantage in the form of the NHS, which unlike the USA does not hold you hostage to work hours for your basic health care.

If your financial needs are modest, consider finding a part-time job doing something tactile. I used to be a dental assistant and I loved it -- no computers, lots of challenging manual tasks, lots of new and different people to meet. Part-timing can give you lots of flexibility and freedom. You can make a living but still fill your life with more of the things that matter to you. If the work keeps you active and engaged, all the better.

I agree with pie ninja that it's great to live and work in the same village. Village life is, in fact, a big part of why I don't want to do the 9-5 thing. I like to be able to do errands during the day, walk around and feel some sense of freedom to be part of the town I live in.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I feel your pain. I think some people just aren't meant to sit in a chair for eight hours a day and stare at a screen.. it's like watching your life just waste away. Or maybe I'm projecting :)

Here are a couple of ideas that I've tried/thought about trying:

Woofing - connects you with organic farms in a huge number of countries. You trade your time and labour for food, accommodation and the chance to learn how to farm. It is a very well-established program and I've worked with a number of woofers who enjoyed it a great deal. Pros - physical activity, healthy lifestyle (you'll eat *alot* of vegetables), costs about $50 to sign up, immediate camaraderie and community. Cons - you won't make any money, seasonal, need to pay for transportation to/from places, labour is hard.

Workaway - a friend of mine has done this and it looks amazing! I've spent more hours on this site fantasizing about living in various areas. Again, you trade your time and labour for food and accommodation, but it is not farm-centric. Be sure to read the reviews. My friend volunteered throughout Ireland and she had mostly good experiences, but one place cancelled on her and it was difficult to adjust the schedule. Pros - find work that suits your interests, most places only need you for 4-5 hrs a day, rest of your time is yours to relax, food and accommodation provided. Cons - limited length of stays (in some cases, need to be comfortable living with other people (often in their houses), travel costs, again, no money.

Being an au pair or nanny - I did this for three years and it was the best job of my life. Complete freedom to walk around during the day (really, kind of required - park, walks, errands etc.), kids laughing like crazy, realizing you're getting paid to stomp in mud puddles. However, depending on the scenario you may not make much money, it really requires loving kids, and it will make you look longingly back at how calm office work was. There can be politics involved and you will get attached to the kid/s. Au pair's receive pocket money, food and board and are geared towards cultural exchange. I created my own business as a nanny and charged an hourly wage in my hometown.

These are all fantastic, get away from the office semi-soon sort of positions, but they aren't really long-term lifestyle choices. One of my friends ended up apprenticed to a chocolatier and loves her life now, another works in a greenhouse growing plants. There are a lot of jobs out there that aren't computer based. Perhaps take a look at your hobbies and interests and think about what you might like to do instead.

Please feel free to memail me if you'd like to talk about any of the jobs I've posted. Oh, and don't be worried about age for any of these as well. It may seem like they're geared towards early twenty somethings but when I ran a farm I was 28, when Polly went workawaying she was 31 and the au pair website has people looking for 20-60 year olds.

Good luck!
posted by valoius at 5:01 PM on May 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

If you can swing it in the technology industry, a lot of people live semi-non traditional lifestyles -- working remotely, working just a few days a week, taking contract jobs just for half the year, working weird hours to have more free time in the day. I know 4 different people who live on farms while working for big tech companies. Not really quite as idyllic but maybe more financially practical.
posted by miyabo at 8:52 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi there! I'm in a very similar situation to you (almost 30, recently made redundant from an office job having worked full time for several years, modest savings, UK-based). I could get another 9-5 sat in front of a computer all day, but to be honest I've always dreamed of escaping so I've taken this as an opportunity. Well done you for considering it - there are better things out there than wasting your life away in an office.

There are some good responses above about finding alternative work in the long-term, but here are some suggestions for making the transition away from your job easier:

- Stick it out at work for as long as possible, and save as much as you can. As someone mentioned above, you might be eligible for redundancy pay and that can help tide you over until you find different employment.
- Renting sucks, it's so expensive and it's a financial commitment each month. If you don't already, could you consider flat-sharing to cut down your outgoings?
- I know you don't want to do it long-term, but consider looking for online work through a freelancer site like PeoplePerHour - this is a UK site and I'm guessing you'd make a good copywriter. It's worth a go just to supplement your income.
- Take a look at courses at your local college. I completed a BTEC Holistic Massage course a couple of years ago for about £300. It was one evening a week so fit in with the day job, and everyone on the course was an adult (in fact I was one of the younger ones). They'll have health & beauty courses, trades (like welding, electrician, mechanic etc) so if you do fancy a career change to something more manual this is a great place to start.

Feel free to memail me if you want to chat about any of this, and good luck!
posted by cardamine at 2:13 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Check out some places near Santa Fe and Taos NM. There's a lot of sustainable living going on there. You might find something cool. Also this is the granddaddy
posted by pallen123 at 7:35 AM on May 16, 2014

If you try wwooofing don't go to Gaunts House. It looks like a dream but is a ****ing hell hole!
posted by tanktop at 12:26 PM on May 16, 2014

Someone I know recently moved to a community in Portugal that is all about a more sustainable lifestyle. So far it's been great for her. It's called Tribodar.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:44 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you've always lived in the UK and worked a job since 18, it might be an interesting time to travel internationally. You're still just young enough to get the Working Holiday visa in Australia. I've met amazing people while traveling, staying in hostels and working backpacker jobs. I've also found that 24 months of living a completely different life with different people and a different rhythm can really shake up the way I feel about myself and the world; it can offer a real clarity about who I am and what I want to do. You don't need that much money to make it happen - flight, visa and a grand to get you started while you look for your first job. Feel free to get in touch if you want more info or first hand experiences.
posted by mosessis at 3:05 AM on May 18, 2014

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