The cottage core lifestyle is incredibly popular on social media, but what is cottagecore and who can afford it?
What is cottagecore?
Central to cottagecore is a rejection of capitalism, a return to nature, the idea of a softer life, a step back from consumerism and a rejection of hustle culture. But in a world facing a housing crisis and with ever rising cost of living the question remains who can afford to live a cottagecore lifestyle? Who can afford to buy a luscious cottage in the woods that just so happens to have perfect Internet connection? Who is paying the bills while you are doing the gardening? Is cottagecore a true escape from our capitalist nightmare? Or is it just rich people cosplaying the 1870s?
The History of Cottagecore
Cottagecore sprang up in a big way on Tumblr in the 2010s and has largely this aesthetic lifestyle of returning to the land, growing some or all of your own food and doing some chores that other people have automated like making your own butter or gathering water that you need to shower with. It’s an embrace of largely home-based domestic activities such as cooking, knitting and sewing. This vibe has absolutely thrived on Tiktok, especially with the lock downs that COVID-19 brought. In 2020 people literally fled major cities looking for this more peaceful, more rural, more pastoral lifestyle. Plus T-Swift dropped her albums, Evermore and Folklore in 2020, which I think added more fuel to the cottagecore flames.
Younger generations are less convinced than older generations that capitalism is the best economic model out there. It’s hard to get excited about an economic system that’s in constant turmoil, that requires constant war and is stripping you of your rights. Who doesn’t look at an image or a video of a cozy cottage filled with books with fairy lights and homemade pumpkin muffins on a table and think, oh my gosh, sign me up for that?! Pass me a muffin, open a book, let’s just sit here and be cozy together. That sounds incredible. I want that life. And more and more people are looking for meaning outside of how productive they are in their workplace. But we’ll get to that later.
The end of over consumption?
People are over over-consuming. Not everyone, people are still over consuming at shockingly high rates and I think we will continue to see that for some time to come. But I think more people are feeling a sense of unsettled and dissatisfaction in their soul. In my opinion, an unintended consequence of social media is that by showing us how everyone is living all the time, and all the things that everyone has, people are able to discard what is not right for them more quickly.
More and more people are beginning to reject this endless social media highlight reel that requires them to constantly be spending and looking outside of themselves for satisfaction. It makes sense if you really sit back and think about it for a second. As people become more and more aware of climate change issues and environmental problems, like the fact that plastic has been found in the Mariana Trench, people get more and more concerned about opting out of the systems that are causing this harm. Cottagecore ties in well with this kind of, “I do not dream of labor vibe” that younger generations have embraced.
Burnout and Hustle Culture
Especially here in the US, more and more workers are reporting experiencing burnout and workplace dissatisfaction. Work is increasingly demanding more and more from the workers, but giving less and less. A study from Mercer found that only 40% of private workplaces offer paid maternity leave. Living costs are also rising much faster than most people’s paychecks.
Cottagecore offers this promise that you can opt out of these terrible workplaces and this endless grind, you’ll be satisfied. Your labor goes not to further enriching a Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, but your labor goes towards building a life that you love. Your energy goes towards enriching yourself and your own soul by living smaller and by living more simply. You don’t need as much money. This means you can work less and spend your time doing whatever it is that brings you joy. The only real work in the cottagecore lifestyle is taking care of yourself and taking care of the things that feed you, your garden, your animals and your home.
But is cottagecore realistic and is it accessible?
As Gen Z and Millennials come face-to-face with the reality that economic turbulence is our norm and not our exception, more and more of us are asking ourselves: How can I protect myself from this crazy up and down? I saw a tweet that sums it up really nicely: “Kind of a bummer to have been born at the very end of the Fuck Around century, just to live the rest of my life in the Find Out century.” So, what do you do when everything feels kind of overwhelming and a little bit hopeless? You try and tune out the distraction, find a little bit of joy in your day-to-day and you turn inward.
As a woman I’m not interested in living in any other time period other than today. Women’s rights are a very new thing in most places on the planet. I’m not interested in going back to the ’20s before I could vote, or the 1850s or the 1600s. That is not for your girl. (If you’re interested in more about why I feel this way, here is a handy dandy timeline of women’s rights.)
But the aesthetic of the ’20s or the 1850s or even the 1600s, that is something I am very interested in. I love a beautiful video that I can just scroll through and watch someone meander through wildflowers or cook something in slow motion in their beautiful wooden cottage. Sign me up for that! That makes me want to cos-play bygone eras, while also still having all of the rights and convenience available in our modern worlds.
Cottagecore is very white and very able-bodied
Unfortunately, cottagecore is made up of largely white, able-bodied and thin women. I had to dig really hard through the Tiktok cottagecore hashtag to find a non-white person displaying this lifestyle. I did have an easier time finding non-white cottagecore creators on Instagram. So maybe it’s the apps. Like I said, I’m deep into the cottagecore videos on Tiktok and I have never seen a non-abled bodied person create in the cottagecore vein. It’s always like very physically healthy and physically-able bodied people. Also, it’s largely white people, which ties back to the way that we have land ownership here in the United States. It has been very difficult for non-white men to own land in the United States for most of our country’s history.
The Homestead Act of 1862
In fact, the first Homestead Act of 1862 allowed white people, who had not taken up arms against the US, to claim up to 160 acres of land in the territories. This meant the non-state area of the United States and use it productively. If they did this for five years, they were granted ownership of the land.
Meanwhile, there are already Indigenous Americans living there, but the Homestead Act said: “Hey, are you a white man who didn’t take up arms against the United States in the Civil War? Get out to this land, live there successfully for five years and we will give you this land for free. You will not have to pay for it.” That is how a lot of white Americans first got land and how a lot of land has remained in the same families for the last 100, 150 years.
A clear problem with the Homestead Act is that it excluded non-white people. Black Americans were not included in this and many of them were enslaved at the time of the act passing. Indigenous people who were again, already living there, were forcibly removed so that white people could snatch up their land. So this idea of homesteading and of moving into the wilderness, there are layers to this fantasy that benefit white people.
Cottagecore is individualistic
I also think it’s important that we talk about how individualistic cottagecore really is, or at least the aesthetic. It’s always about one person surviving by themselves in the woods. One woman running through a field of wildflowers. One woman reading by candlelight in her cottage alone. There’s very little focus on community and there’s very little focus on collective growth. It’s really about you escaping the rat race, so that you can be happy. Nevermind the other people in your community who may be facing the same problems or struggles. Y’all know that’s simply not my jam. I am all about community.
Who can afford cottagecore living?
So now I have to ask: who can really afford cottagecore living? Who can afford to buy a house at all in today’s market? And who can afford to buy several acres of land in a somewhat rural place? That involves things like putting in a well and maybe building their own house, have to add their own septic system, etc. This is an incredibly expensive undertaking.
DIY is expensive!
Let’s use the example of making your own bread. Making your own bread is awesome. And it’s something I do and it is almost always more expensive than just buying a loaf of bread at the store. Because if you want to make your own bread, you need to buy your own flour, you need to buy your own salt, you need to buy yeast or any flavors or things you want to put in the bread like nuts. You’ll need to pay for the gas to and from the grocery store to get all of the supplies. Then there’s the time that goes into making the bread! This is all just bread. We’re not even talking about a more complex food item here like growing your own food in your own garden that requires a lot of time and startup capital.
With a garden first, you have to buy the seeds. You need to have the tools. You also have to have the space and the time and ability to tend the garden. The seeds don’t get planted, then boom, the next day, there’s your eggplant and squash. It’s over months that this happens. Any serious gardener in the world will tell you, it’s pretty unrealistic to think that you can grow all of the calories you will need to live a healthy lifestyle on your own.
Rural areas vs. Major cities
While some rural areas are definitely are cheaper than major cities, cities are where job growth largely happens in the United States. To move to the woods full time and to devote yourself to growing your own food, baking your own bread and tending for the land means a few things in today’s world. You either need to give up the idea of financial stability and actively opt out of saving and investing. Or, you need to have financial stability already in place via family money, or the money you earned and now you’re going to live off of, or a working partner.
The commodification of Cottagecore
Cottagecore has also now fallen into the trap that so many movements and trends fall into which is commodification. A lot of cottageccore creators now sell their lifestyle and the products that they use on their social media platforms. I say this without judgment. Hey, we all gotta pay the bills, right? We all gotta pay the tax man. So I understand that these people need a way to create money for themselves. But does that go against what cottage course stands for in the first place?
What are the ramifications of commodifying every aspect of your life? If you wake up in the morning and you have to film yourself walking, talking, cooking and eating? What is the product here? The product is you.
My conclusion here is: Can people in the cottageccore world please tell me how they are affording their lifestyles? I would like to know. Cottageccore is my dream. I mean, T Bone would never move to the woods to be alone with me, that’s not his jam. So it’s a doomed fantasy. But what a delicious fantasy.
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