What I’ve Learned From the Subsistence Lifestyle

I’m a sucker for real-life dramas like Life Below Zero. This show follows the lives of several people who essentially live off the land – or the subsistence lifestyle.

There’s a lot to be learned from these folks who have forsaken “having it all” and have chosen a more simple way of life. They are not wealthy, but they seem to be some of the most satisfied people I’ve seen on TV.

One of the shows more interesting characters is a man by the name of Glenn Villeneuve. He lives in the Brooks Range of Alaska in a small cabin he built by himself. He doesn’t have a vehicle, or many of the modern day conveniences – but hunts for all his food and knows a lot about living off-grid.

According to a Facebook interview he gave in 2013, he still works some of the time in the business world so he can support a subsistence life. Viewers don’t get any insight as to his family life either – but is a father of 4 children. Something that I find a bit troubling (“Why would you leave your kids behind to chase a lifestyle dream?”).

The other shows characters all live the life full-time. And reside in the “last frontier”: Alaska.

Having watched several of the seasons in my spare time, there’s a few things I’ve learned from the way they live.

Experiences are priceless

A golden nugget that I’ve gathered from watching the people live off the land is how much they cherish the experience of life in nature and having to make due with what the wild provides them. One family (the Hailstones), seems to really enjoy their life of hunting, fishing and then trading when they need something. They spend a lot of time teaching their children too so they can one day live a subsistence lifestyle. All seem to place a high value on experiences over accumulation / possessions and appear to be happier for it.

You don’t need much

Watching the show brings to mind some of the conversations we’ve had with our tiny home dweller, LaMar Alexander. Many of the subsistence folks live in very small residences and don’t have a lot of things. Resourcefulness is a word that comes to mind after watching some of the things they are able to build and achieve with limited tools.

Contentedness is a byproduct

Another thing that surprises me about the people who are living off the land is they seem to be very content and comfortable with themselves. My guess is that many years of living on your own produces a certain amount of intrinsic rewards that boost a healthy self-image. The lifestyle also seems to humble its participants (which could result in contentedness).

Take advantage of opportunities

One of the themes that reverberates among the cast of characters is this idea of being “opportunistic”. Many will go hunting for a particular animal, only to spot another and then go after that. They don’t know if they’ll ever get a chance to shoot their desired meal – so they have to take advantage of what is available to them.

Life is an adventure

One of the things that I often forget in my world of working in a traditional, 9-5 corporate job is that life is to be lived – it is an adventure. Sometimes, one day at my job seems to be like any other, without a lot of stimulation and it can leave you a bit dull. This sense of adventure and living life on the edge seems to be present with those living a subsistence life. They need to step up and make things happen or they don’t eat. I’m sure it is be very exhilarating, challenging and rewarding.

You can do alot without money

The Hailstone family seems to do very little with money (In fact I’ve never seen them exchanging dollars for goods). Since their primary job is hunter / gatherers – they will trade food for any other material things they need with people in their village. While this could be due to the culture they’re from – trading seems to be a necessity when living in the bush. I sometimes wonder if I could employ this more in my every day life too.

I’m curious if you’ve seen the show too – and some of the things you’ve observed? Or, perhaps you’ve lived (are living) a subsistence lifestyle?

You might also be interested in:


  1. These shows are so neat! It’s interesting to see the hacks they come up with to stretch their resources. I think us soft city folk could learn a thing or two as far as stretching our money and not wasting a thing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *