“Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City”

“Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City” is perhaps my favorite of the books I have written because it is like a personal diary of how my wife and I worked towards our goal of “living lightly on the earth,” even though we had a small budget and lived in a small suburban Los Angeles home.

We were doing what our Appalachian friend used to describe as “living country in the city.” We pursued all aspects of self-reliance, and wrote about it.

Starting as soon as we moved in to our new home in 1986, we began task by task with limited income.  We used our front lawn to grow food, we recycled our wash water, collected rain water, had chickens, a duck, bees, and a pig, had solar water heating and solar electricity, a wood stove, and we planted fruit trees and food everywhere.

We describe our efforts to do “integral gardening” on every bit of usable land, to produce food (for people and wildlife), medicines, fragrance, shade, and useful tools. We describe the details of what it meant to raise earthworms, chickens, rabbits, bees, a goose, a pig, and our dogs in their typical suburban back yard.

We took the reader along their journey to installing a wood fireplace, solar water heating, and a solar electric system.

Though there is much “how to” in this book, it is full of personal stories and rich reading of the learning they experienced along the way. There is a section on recycling, and a unique section about the economics of self-reliance. 

It’s worth noting that this is not a book we planned on writing. In 2000, we were called by the Mother Earth News magazine to write an article about our meaning of “alternate health” methods, and we wrote about the methods that could be called “new age” and could be called Hypocratean.  We were on the cover, and a book publisher contacted us to see if we could turn that health article into a book. We said yes. But when we submitted the manuscript to the publisher, they said, hmm, not exactly what we were looking for.  [That book, “Integral Health,” will be published eventually]. So they asked us if we could just write about how we live, which we did, and it became “Extreme Simplicity.”

Here are some selected excerpts:


Our freestanding fireplace has completely transformed our home. We would strongly encourage anyone without one already to seriously consider installing one. On very cold nights, we had been using those small electric heaters that really drive up your electric bill. The fireplace made the house really feel like a home, and we now are uncertain how we got along without it.

In our case, the transition to wood heating was fairly easy, because we had plenty of firewood readily available. We were actually doing a neighbor a favor by cleaning up and carting off large amounts of dead and fallen wood from his property. Our first season of firewood came entirely from our weekly cleaning of his yard, just for the cost of our labor. How’s that for a win-win situation?


Many people today believe that they’re spending all their time working, yet with very little in return. Unfortunately, such realizations may come too late to be remedied.

We think that the Amish people have the right idea when they keep their schools and work close to home. They don’t have to go a long way to a job, thereby avoiding wasted time and energy, unnecessary expenses, and disconnection from their community. They can protect their families from undesirable influence, and there is the added bonus of having youngsters nearby where they can learn a trade from an early age. The Amish are firmly committed to valuing “quality of life” over all the stuff that our modern society deems important or indispensable — car, home entertainment system, fancy clothes, foods bought for “convenience” and prestige rather than fresh garden flavor and nutritional value.


Once, during a period of homelessness before we were married, Christopher was engulfed in thoughts of “poor me” and “I’m destitute,” and he could scarcely see a way out of the darkness. Dolores provided him with a simple set of practical tools that anyone can use if only they choose to do so. Here are four “magic” ways to improve your financial situation:

1. Never waste anything.

2. Continually improve your personal honesty.

3. Leave every situation or circumstance better than you found it.

4. Tithe to the church (or organization) of your choice.

We know that these are genuine practical solutions. We have heard people say that they cannot make these efforts — such as tithing, or improving an environment — because “we are poor.” Our perspective is that they have their reasoning backwards. They are poor because they do not engage themselves in the world in these ways. Logical thinking leads to erroneous conclusions when the premise is false.


1. You can do without some electrical devices. 

This will probably involve changing your behavior, for instance, thinking twice before switching on an electrical tool or appliance when a non-electric alternative will work just as well or better.

2. You can learn to use your existing devices more efficiently. 

 This step, too, requires changes in habit, but once you’ve understood the extra expenses caused by inefficiency and waste, you’ll feel good about it – plus you’ll save money by practicing efficiency.

3. You can purchase new appliances that render your household inherently more energy efficient.

 This step requires initial outlays of money, and in some cases higher short-term expenses, but with certain especially wasteful appliances, the best way to save energy and money is to immediately replace the old, wasteful model.

Christopher Nyerges is an educator and author.  He can be reached at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.