My 20-year-old daughter called at 8 pm on a 95-degree Texas Sunday night.
“Dad, the air conditioner on my RV went out. I’m hot, frustrated and I have to get some sleep because I have work in the morning” she said.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be there in an hour” was my reply. Then I sent a text to my brother, who lives in a cabin 500 feet down the dirt road from me. The text read, “Maggie needs a window AC, do you still have that one in your shed that you aren’t using? P.S. and some cedar planks.”
My brother texted back, “Come get it! You need help installing?”
By 10 pm my daughter’s RV was cold and she was happy. I had driven the hour to her place, removed one of the RV windows, and installed the window AC unit with nice cedar trim in under 2 hours. Total cost: $4 in gasoline to get there and back.
This is just one example of good, clean “Clan Living.”
Clan Living Isn’t New
A sociology professor might call it “Multi-generational Use of Shared Resources and Labor.” Everyone who did it simply called it “The Family Farm.”
Back then, more than one generation lived on the family land, whether they lived in one house or several. They shared the work and they shared the resources. Some family members might work in town making hard cash while others stayed on the farm growing crops or growing children. Grandma sat on the porch with a toddler playing at her feet.
Grandma didn’t go to a nursing home, the toddler didn’t go to daycare, the woman of the house had the freedom to work in town if she wanted, and the adult daughter-in-law (mother of the grandbaby) kept the garden and the animals healthy while going to the local community college. Everyone played a role.
Think of all the costs associated with starting and raising a family in modern America. Your son turns 18 and goes off to college or turns 20 and gets married to his high-school sweetheart. The next thing he knows he has to move out, find an apartment to rent, buy a car, get appliances and dishes. They need to find daycare for the baby. They need a job or two. Life is expensive. It’s hard to keep up. They are running on fumes and struggling to make ends meet. What happens if the baby gets sick and can’t go to daycare? Which parent will miss work to care for her?
The cost of setting up a proper home and life is high. The difficulty of finding a good job and supporting a family is real. The mental and emotional isolation of doing it all on your own is wearing.
This is how America works. The kids grow up, move out, and run their own life. Ready or not here life comes!
Bringing Clan Living Back
As modern-day homesteaders, we are bringing the clan life back in a real way. Here’s how.
My wife and I bought our 10 acres in the East Texas Piney Woods in 2011. At first, it was just us and our high-school-aged daughter. Our young-adult son lived in Oklahoma with his young wife and baby boy. My much older brother (20 years older) lived in another part of Texas with his wife. We were all trying to make it on our own.
My brother and his wife lived on social security disability insurance. Rents were rising and they were having a tough time getting by. About 4 years after setting up our homestead, my brother and his wife moved onto the property. They bought a 15×33-foot storage building and finished it out as a cabin. There’s no way they could have done that without using the resources already on the homestead such as tools, tractor, and social network. Plus they got to move onto the land for free. So now (3 years later) they live rent-free in a nice little cabin. When they moved out here, they brought their truck (I don’t own a truck) along with his woodworking tools and a lifetime of carpentry knowledge.
My daughter wanted her own place after graduating high school so we bought a used RV and placed it on another part of the homestead. That gave her an independent life without being completely on her own. Eventually, she moved to a bigger city about an hour away with that RV, and now lives in an RV park and works in the city. Guess how we got the RV to the city? If you guessed my brother’s truck then you guessed right.
Meanwhile, up in Oklahoma my son and his young family were spending every penny just trying to make ends meet on his salary as an assistant restaurant manager. His wife stayed home in order to save the cost of daycare and to give their infant son a better upbringing. After 18 months they were slowly losing ground month by month. My wife came home from visiting them and said, “They aren’t thriving. What can we do to help?”
My wife, my brother, and I built a small apartment on the homestead and invited my son and his family to come stay for the summer. My wife and I are dog trainers, so we taught the business to my son and relaunched them in Dallas with their own dog-training venture. They immediately had more income, more free time, more financial security, and a better home life.
My son moved to Dallas from the homestead 2 years ago. When we went to visit them last week he said, “We are looking for some land to move onto next summer. I’m starting to save but I don’t see how I can have enough for the land and a house and everything we will need.”
“Not a problem” I replied, “you can take the north 5 acres on the homestead if you want. You will still need to save enough money to buy a used mobile home or build something, but you can probably do that for under $15,000 with no mortgage.”
They are paying about $1,500 per month right now for rent and utilities. He can crank up the dog training business enough to save $10,000 – $15,000 in the next 12 months. Then, they will move onto the homestead as well. Once they get set up they will be rent free – adding almost $1,500 per month to their bottom line.
The more we add to each other, the more resources we each have for our own households.
Clan Living is Exactly How it Used to Be
Before modern city-life took over, people often lived this way. Work skills are hard won over decades of practice. Businesses (whether farming or dog training) take a certain amount of time and money to grow. Resources like tractors, trucks, and tools are paid for with hard-earned money. And all families need help whether it’s daycare for the baby or home health-care for an ailing grandmother. People go bankrupt trying to do it all on their own.
For a long time, the extended family was the basic unit of society. In some places it still is. My neighbor has 10 acres. They have lived there all their life. Just a little way up the ridge, his brother has 10 acres. Next to his brother, their mother and father have their own land. My neighbor’s adult daughter still lives at home with her toddler-age child. They all share their resources, experience, and income making opportunities with each other. That toddler has never seen the inside of a daycare full of strangers and never will.
My mother used to say, “Blessed is the boy who gets to be babysat by Grandma!” It’s true of course. Who better to raise children than parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles? What a deeply rooted sense of self and place it must provide to a child to be constantly surrounded by love and family.
Of course, modern, industrialized life changed all of that. In many ways, it changed for the better. People have wider-ranging opportunities and options. Now a son can do something other than just take over the time-worn tractor seat of his father.
Many of us, however, are finding our way back to those older ideas. Especially in today’s economy of 30-hour workweeks at $10 per hour for young people. Those going to college end up with massive amounts of debt that slow down their launch. Many opportunities that existed for me in the early 1990’s simply don’t exist for my son or my daughter. It’s a new kind of struggle in a new kind of world where $100 per month personal cell phones are mandatory, along with health insurance and other new expenses.
Even people without homesteads are living multi-generationally. My mother-in-law lives with one of her daughters. In that home live my mother-in-law, her married daughter and son-in-law, their two adult children, and a grandbaby. They don’t have a homestead, just a house. Sometimes it takes a village to pay a mortgage and all the associated bills.
I think it’s more fun on a homestead where everyone can spread out. When my son and his family move onto the homestead they will have their own 5 acres of land. This will allow them room to build their own facilities to train dogs, have livestock and chickens, and have their own elbow room.
If we need more land we can all pitch in and buy the land across the road from us. I know the owner. He would be happy to sell us 5 or 10 acres more.
Shared Resources Change Everything
Can you imagine if something happened to you and help was as close as next door? My brother and his wife are 500 feet away, down the dirt road. When they had a fire on their land get out of control, he ran over and banged on my door. I jumped in my tractor and put the grass-fire out in no time. When I needed help building an apartment for my son he was here with a tool belt and 40 years of carpentry know-how at the ready.
If I ever walk outside and my car won’t start, I can always go use his truck, and vice versa. I don’t need to own a router because he does. He doesn’t need to buy a wood planer since I already own one. When I rebuilt my daughter’s RV it was with my brother’s help. When we brought her RV to the city it was with his truck. This sort of give-and-take of resources is why I encouraged my son and his family to move out to the homestead as well.
We Didn’t Plan it This Way
When my wife and I bought the homestead we assumed that once our daughter graduated high school it would just be the two of us. It made sense at the time.
Now that I’m turning 50 and she’s a little older, we have started thinking about retirement (the old-age type because we can’t do as much). What if something happened to one of us in 20 years? What would the other one do? We don’t want to leave the homestead. By “clanning up” we are better-insulating ourselves, our homestead, and future generations from such worries.
Even now, with my older brother and his wife, the thought occurs. They aren’t in great health. His wife uses a walker. What if something happened to one of them? They know we are here to help them out as well. If something happens and they need help they need look no farther than 500 feet away.
From generation to generation there’s an OPTION. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to stay on the homestead, or even that they should. It’s important to have your own life. My daughter will probably get married next year and head off to California with her new husband. That’s fantastic! But, I promise, no matter what happens or where they go she will always know where “home” is. The homestead isn’t going anywhere. It’s the dirt under our feet.
Home is where her mother and father and brother and sister-in-law and uncle and aunt and nephew all live. Home is where she can return at any time with her husband and possibly children. There’s plenty of room. We have acres to spare. Pull up an RV, drive in a mobile home, build a cabin or a house. She can use the tractor free of charge.