Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The 9-to-5 grind vs. a freelance lifestyle

Yesterday Don and I experienced an "ordinary" day.

We worked on a couple of tankard orders, I had some writing commitments, we had some farm chores. Our activities toggled among these tasks.

In the early morning (I get up well before dawn), I did computer work: some writing, emails, that kind of thing. When Don got up, I made his coffee and he read the news as he drank it. We took Mr. Darcy out for his morning Frisbee-throw. Then we got to work on tankards, which took us through most of the daylight hours.

We took Mr. Darcy for his late-afternoon walk much later than normal (we're still getting used to the blasted time change) so it was almost dark when we got back, which necessitated feeding the cows and chickens by flashlight. A neighbor stopped by to deposit some meat temporarily in our freezer (their unit was broken and their new unit wasn't expected for a couple of days). In the evening we had dinner, tidied up, then relaxed into our books.

Today's tasks won't vary much. We're expecting some sub-freezing temperatures tomorrow, so today (while Don works in the shop) I will gather up hoses, drain them, and coil them in the barn for the winter. I'll put the stock tank heater in the cows' water tank to keep the water from freezing. I'll do laundry, which is piling up. I have two articles due by Friday, so I'll work on those. I'll continue doing the footwork for another article due next Friday.

This is typical for our days. Sometimes we work in the shop. Sometimes we work in the house. Sometimes we work in the garden, or the barn, or the chicken coop, or in the woods. Some of these tasks are money-earning, some aren't. But all our done at our own pace and our own schedule.

We've done this for so many years – going on 26 now – that we've almost forgotten what it's like to work according to someone else's schedule.

When people fantasize about leaving behind the 9-to-5 grind, they often have visions of tropical beaches dancing in their heads: lounging in a hammock on sparkling sands before blue waters. There's certainly nothing wrong with a vacation; but lounging on that beach isn't a lifestyle, it's a break.

A freelance work-at-home lifestyle still means work. You can't shuck off commitments in favor of lounging on that mythical beach.

But you can work at your own pace. As most people know, I'm a morning person. If there's writing to get done (it's 5:27 a.m. as I write this particular sentence), then I'd better do it before the sun comes up because my brain is kinda useless after the sun goes down. (Last night I had some unfinished writing I reeeealllly tried to get buttoned up before bedtime, and just couldn't do it. I saved it until this morning.)

Don is the opposite – he's a night owl – and he's alert and productive after I go to bed. He doesn't have as many writing commitments as I do, but when he does write, he doesn't dare do it in the morning – his mind is simply not wired for it. But set him before a keyboard after 9 p.m. and yowza, watch out.

A few things work in our favor when it comes to this freelance lifestyle. One, we work. We don't lounge on beaches, mythical or otherwise, unless we're on vacation (whatever that is). But we work at our own pace and our own schedule. Two, we live cheaply. Expenses are discussed and budgeted in advance, and recreational shopping is virtually zero. Except for our mortgage (and it's low), we have no debt. Therefore our freelance income is able to support our freelance lifestyle.

But there's no question a freelance lifestyle means your income is never, ever dependable. You don't know from one month to the next how much you'll earn. For some people, this acts as an incentive to replace it with full-time work; others simply adapt and adjust their lifestyle (and spending) accordingly.

This kind of lifestyle allows us an amazing amount of freedom. If we have no particular deadlines – no tankard orders are due, no magazine articles are in the works – then we're free to lounge on that metaphysical beach. We took a day-long jaunt last Thursday just because … we could. There was nothing holding us back, no bosses telling us we couldn't take off on company time. Some people adopt a completely mobile lifestyle under these conditions, but we're tied to the farm and that's fine with us.

Some people don't like the uncertainty, either of schedule or of finances, associated with a freelance lifestyle. That's perfectly understandable, especially if you have inescapable financial commitments (mortgage, debt, etc.) that require a steady and predictable income. Under these situations, there's nothing wrong with working a standard 40-hour week.

But it's not for us, not any more. Been there done that, for many years.

One of the biggest advantages of this kind of freelance lifestyle is the lack of stress. I have a particular writing assignment I'm working on at the moment, and I don't particularly want to do it. So I intersperse working on it with other tasks – laundry or tankards or cleaning the chicken coop. Then I come back and do a little more, then stop and do something else. Rinse and repeat.

However, lest you think we spend our days dibbling and dabbling (okay, maybe we do), don't forget the times we are under deadline. Years ago when the girls were younger and took up more of our time, we would often pull all-nighters to get work done: Don would work until 2 a.m. while I snatched a few hours' sleep, then I'd get up and take over while he snatched some sleep. Rinse and repeat. That's the reality of working at home: you can never escape the office when there's work to be done. Or as one person put it, "When you're self-employed, every day is Wednesday." We work through weekends. We work through holidays. When we need to, we work very very long hours. We do whatever we have to do to get a job done.

But when it's done, it's done. And then our "office" becomes our home again, an escape from work.

One difficulty some people have when transitioning to a freelance lifestyle is acquiring the motivation to get a job done. After all, nearly everything in our society trains us to need bosses. We're trained to need structure. There really isn't anything wrong with this – unless everything in your being revolts against structure and bosses. In this case, a freelance lifestyle is a better fit.

They say if you want to achieve a goal, you must begin with the end in mind. When we first left the city back in 1993, we had two major goals: To work from home, and to build a homestead. This was the "end in mind" concept we knew we wanted. We could achieve these goals in one of two ways: We could either earn more or we could spend less. We opted for the latter. So far so good.


  1. Sounds good. Stole the will Rogers quote! ;-)

  2. Patrice, it's funny how folks see things differently.

    Writing is a hobby for me so I get the freelance lifestyle. I love a rural lifestyle. But one person's 'homestead' is another person's (me) farm. Farming is a lot of hard work, no calling in sick, no backup for vacations, and you are tied down to a piece of land. I'd dread the last part. I love the feeling of freedom knowing I could move anytime anywhere and that would immediately be 'home'.

    Montana Guy

  3. Thanks for the insight Patrice. This is something I am working towards - slowly, and I may never quite get there, but one has to start somewhere.

  4. Congrats on your featured article on Survivalblog.

    1. Thanks! Didn't see it until a reader pointed it out.

      - Patrice

  5. Another quote that I ran across recently, from Ellen Goodman (fairly lefty journalist and city girl, but she gets this one right): "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it."


  6. “When asked “What thing about humanity surprises you the most?”, the Dalai Lama answered:

    “Man…. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

  7. Do you take orders for tankards? I have been trying to track down a store or something for several days. I bought a Tri Canis Nox in the late 90's and ruined it; would like to get another.

  8. I just found your blog as I was perusing back through some of Frank and Fern's posts and am so happy that I did! This entry really spoke to me as I am currently dealing with the internal struggle of my out-of-the-home career vs. freelance and working from home.

    This excerpt: They say if you want to achieve a goal, you must begin with the end in mind. When we first left the city back in 1993, we had two major goals: To work from home, and to build a homestead. This was the "end in mind" concept we knew we wanted.

    Your end in mind concept is the exact same as the one my husband and I have. We just purchased our dream home (for now, this may change haha) and are working so hard at eliminating debt (student loans and some consumer debt) so that we can make our homestead, self-sufficiency dreams come true. I hope to glean more from your blog as I keep reading!

    1. Welcome, Savannah! It sounds like you're motivated and determined. That's half the battle. Keep us posted!

      - Patrice