Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Simplicity Goals – Kitchen February 21, 2015

Filed under: family,organization,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:40 am
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As promised, I am going to be posting more details about the decluttering I am doing in our home.  I know that some will find the extent that I am going with this to be extreme, but that is the beauty of this.  You can feel free to take from the ideas whatever you need that will fit your own lifestyle.  I am going to be posting this as a short series, one room per post, so that I can go more into exactly what I am doing and why.

As I have often stated before, I absolutely loved touring an old home that was on display at a historical museum.  The complete calm that I felt as my husband and I walked through the rooms was a sweet balm to my soul.  The thought kept coming to me that this was the feeling that we should have when we walk into our own home.  It is often stated that the family home is a place you can go to get away from the stresses of the world.  Yet, how often do we allow our homes to become influenced by that stress?  How many times do we fall short in that feeling of being at total peace when we walk through the door of our home?

This historical home, like so many others of that time, was very sparsely furnished.  The items on display were ones that spoke a story of the family’s life.  When we entered the home, we were in the largest room of the house….the kitchen.  Along one wall was a huge fireplace with an oven built in to the wall.  In the center of the room was a large wooden table.  The chairs were neatly arranged as was a long bench that ran the length of the table on each side.  Items most often used were carefully placed around the room.  A hutch for storing dishes, cooking utensils, and linens stood on one wall.  A butter churn in a corner next to a chair.  A firewood box was set up near the fireplace.  There were other items as well which decorated the room, but each item held a specific purpose.  Looking around, you could see that the family who lived in that home was likely a farming family.  The old farm kitchen was truly the center of the home.  Often times, it would be the only room to have heat in the winter.  For this reason, it was the place where the family was always gathered.   In many of the older Amish homes, this is still the case.  Our Amish neighbors, Levi and Katie, had one large room in the main level of their 2-story home.  On one end was the kitchen/dining room and at the other end was the living room.  I remember how simply it was arranged and have always wanted to recreate that level of simplicity in my own home.

The following picture is of an Amish kitchen that I found online.  I don’t know who originally took the picture, but it shows the best representation of what I love.

Amish Kitchen

Amish Kitchen

In this picture, you can see how sparse the furnishings are.  The room is small, but very functional.  Do you notice the lack of cabinetry?  That is typical of older homes.  In fact, our home has no cabinets at all!  In this little kitchen, a Momma can do all her cooking, canning, and other tasks without any problem.  I absolutely would love to recreate this kitchen in our own home!

Above the table is a simple oil lamp suspended from a chain attached to the ceiling.  The other lighting option, which happens to be a popular one with the Amish, is propane gas lights.  You can see the propane tank in the opened cabinet.  These lights are just as safe to use as a camp lantern.  Storing the propane bottle in the cabinet box makes it safe around children, especially with the lantern up so high from a child’s reach.

A wood burning stove for heat as well as cooking makes the kitchen cozy in the winter.  The gas stove provides a method of cooking in summer months when it is too hot to use a wood stove comfortably.  It also provides a steady heat source when using a canner to jar up your harvest.  A baker’s cabinet holds the items needed for any baking that is done each day.  The family’s dishes are kept in the upper portion of the baker’s cabinet.

Compared to a “modern” kitchen, this one definitely lacks the conveniences that many women enjoy today.  There are no small appliances, such as a microwave or even a toaster.  Yet, to the woman who cooks in this kitchen, it contains everything she needs.  Extra dishes have no place in this kitchen.  It only holds what is essential.  Extra place settings of dishes, the canner, and other items that are not used daily may be kept on a shelf in the pantry until needed.  Once the need is gone, they are returned to that location.

Our kitchen is larger than the one pictured.  Though it is larger, it has had it’s times of feeling more crowded than the picture above.  This has been one of the driving factors in my wanting to cull out the excess.  When a room in our home looks too cluttered, I get very tense.  It directly impacts me.  I get overwhelmed and stressed.  I just can’t seem to function well in that environment.  Being as I spend so much of my time in the kitchen, it is the logical place for me to start when it comes to decluttering.

When I think about exactly what items I am needing in my kitchen, I take into consideration two things.  First, the number of people in our family.  Second, the frequency in which I use any item in the kitchen.  For all practical purposes, I only need the following to make my kitchen fully functional.

Dishes & Silverware:

1 complete place setting per person (plate, bowl, dessert plate, silverware)

1 glass per person for cold drinks

1 mug per person for hot drinks

Bakeware:

1 cookie sheet

1 muffin pan

1 (9×13) cake pan

1 (8×8) cake pan

2 pie pans

1 roasting pan with lid

1 casserole dish

Cookware:

1 stock pot with lid

1 large sauce pan

1 small sauce pan

1 large skillet

1 griddle

Food Prep Items:

1 large mixing bowl

set of wooden spoons

soup ladle

metal spatula

wire wisp

set of measuring cups

set of measuring spoons

measuring cup for liquids

sifter

rolling pin

knives

meat mallet

pastry knife

potato masher

rubber/vinyl spatula

Additional items, such as the extra place settings, cookie cutters, and canning supplies can be stored in the pantry.  I also keep the table linens on a shelf in the pantry.  The items listed above are the ones that are used most often.  The fact that they can all easily be stored in a single baker’s cabinet, such as the one in the above picture, is a great space saver.  I don’t have a cabinet like that, but the wire shelving is more than sufficient to store it all with shelves left over.  As I go through my kitchen supplies, I am finding that much can be packed away in a box.  Anything in the box that isn’t needed within 6 months, can be donated.  It is literally that simple.

Now, I do want to mention that when you cut down your dishes to a full place setting per person, this means that you have to stay on top of doing dishes immediately after each meal.  Otherwise it can be a pain in the backside to have to hurry up and do dishes so you can set the table again.  Some may find that it is too tempting to go grab up the extra place settings, especially if they don’t want to run a dishwasher that is not full.  In our family of four, it doesn’t take long to do the dishes if done right away.  We get the wash water ready just before sitting down to the meal.  My darling husband made it a house rule that each person has to clear their own place at the table and hand wash their own dishes.  This makes it even easier to stay up on it.  After the dishes are done, the table is wiped down so it is ready for use again.  It is really just a matter of setting up a routine and sticking with it.  Things don’t always go as planned, but the effort to stay on top of it is at the forefront.

What I have found over the years has been that the excess “stuff” in your home can be as stress inducing as anything outside of your home.  You have to maintain and store all those items.  When things get too cluttered and you run out of space, the intensity of your stress magnifies as you try to cull out what you are able to do.  Yet, at the same time, trying to hold on to as much as possible.  In having few things, you are free from that burden.  Cleaning is much faster and easier when you have less to deal with.  As I go through our home and remove excess, I am finding that my personal stress level is dropping.  I have more time in the day to pursue other things.  By removing unneeded items, I gain space for items that we do need.

Like the historical home, we want the items in our home to have purpose and function.  We want to be deliberate in what we buy and keep.  Though our home is much larger than what is termed a “tiny house,” we are wanting to adopt that way of thinking.  As we plan the remodeling yet to be done, we are looking to open up the front of the house back to its original floor plan.  The wall that separates the kitchen from the kids’ room will be taken down again.  Originally, it was all one large kitchen/dining room.  The pantry is a separate room just off from the kitchen.  In the entry area of the pantry nearest to the kitchen, there is shelving that can easily become storage for the extra dishes and supplies.  This will further leave the kitchen space more open and clutter-free.

I am still working on the process of scaling back in our kitchen.  It is taking time as I have to do it around my other daily tasks.  I am enjoying the results though.  Each bag or box of stuff that leaves the kitchen gives me a sense of relief.  It has been so eye-opening to realize just how badly we let the attitudes of society to take control.  In our country, people seem to have the attitude that if you have few things, you are poor and disadvantaged.  Yet, I am finding that by not catering to that attitude, we are actually going to be richer in our lives.  Instead of having to maintain so much stuff, we will have more time to really enjoy each other as a family.  We can pursue the interests that we have without distraction.  Best of all, we will save money by not getting all that stuff in the first place!

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The Vaccinations Debate Hate-Mongering February 7, 2015

Filed under: faith,ramblings — ourprairiehome @ 4:40 am
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Yes, I am finally going there. I have tried to avoid being drawn into the Vaccinations debate for years now. It seems that since the recent measles outbreak, more people have become very vocal. Some voices actually being militant in their tone and are now spewing hate. I have been shocked at the sheer level of which the people are reaching in their venomous words. Some calling for government to force vaccinations onto all children, regardless of the parents rights. What is the most heartbreaking is when I see this coming from people who profess to be Christian. Where is their Christianity in the hate that they are showing towards others who do not share their views on the subject? This goes for both sides of the argument. You have people showing the same levels of viciousness on both sides of the vaccinations debate.

My personal stance on this issue are not important to the topic of this post. My focus here is quite simple. I want to draw attention to the way in which people are treating each other. What positive message are people trying to give when they get ugly in their words and attitudes? I have seen a full range of reactions, from comments people post on social media to what they say out right. There is an attitude from the pro-vaccine side that parents who don’t vaccinate are ignorant. Some even call into question the person’s parenting skills. At times, there are comments that those parents who do not vaccinate their kids are guilty of child neglect, likening the choice to not vaccinate to the level of being a form of child abuse. Then you have those who would go so far as to want to hold the parents of an unvaccinated child financially responsible if their vaccinated child were to become sick with the measles or other illness that the vaccines are supposed to protect against. From the side of those who do not vaccinate, there are comments about the pro-vaccine people being sheep that blindly accept what the pharmaceutical companies and the CDC state as fact. In other words, calling the pro-vaccinate crowd ignorant for not looking into the vaccine issue for themselves. The list goes on and on. Where is the Christian attitude in all this?

Several times now, I have seen remarks about the pro-vaccine parents not wanting their child exposed to a child who has not received vaccinations. They feel that the unvaccinated for be sequestered from the vaccinated children. This has really taken off since the measles cases. As long as our nation allows our borders to be basically a free-access to those from other countries, we will always have a risk of exposure to illnesses that our nation had lowered the occurrences of. Not every nation uses vaccines to the extent that our nation does. This is where the politically correct issues gets murky. To assume that an outbreak of an illness is caused by an unvaccinated child who has never been outside of the US, either by birth or by traveling with family, is to make a huge error in judgment. I have one question for both sides to consider on this issue. If the measles, in example, was nearly gone from the US, then how did anyone in this country come down with a case of measles? Who exposed that person? What was the true point of origin? In finding an answer to this, we all have to stop with the knee-jerk reactions on the subject.

I am seeing friendships and other relationships becoming strained, at best, over this topic. It would seem that the vaccine debate rates up there with politics and religion when it comes to volatile subjects. Maybe that is one reason why I have tried to stay away from it. All I know is that people are causing harm to others through this process. Maybe not the physical harm, but relationships are being tested in a harsh way. Again, I have to ask. Where does this fall in line with the teachings in the Christian faith? I would love for someone to point out in the Bible where Christ set this kind of example? Where did he treat those who believed differently than himself with total vile and hatred? What instance in the Bible demonstrates that it is acceptable for a Christian to be such a hate-monger towards others? In my Bible, Jesus Christ sat down with those who were of a different belief and He showed them grace. Remember the woman at the well? Her people, the Samaritans, were not thought well of by the Jews of that time. Yet, Jesus went to her and treated her with respect.

If you are quick to be hateful, show disrespect, and spew evil on the heads of others through word or actions, what good are you doing? Does this tactic ever bring about a feeling of comfort that allows two sides with opposite views to sit and discuss them meaningfully? Has a person ever been won over from their point of view by calling them vile names or making ugly accusations? What good has it ever accomplished?

No matter where your heart lies in this, or any other hot topic of debate, the message is the same. Don’t lower yourself to the point of becoming hateful towards others. Speak respectfully to them. Be as open minded to their point of view as you would have them be towards yours. When people shout ugliness towards another, nothing is ever gained. Hearts can become hardened and lines can be drawn in the proverbial sand. Don’t allow fear to direct your words and actions. You may find others far more willing to hear your point of view if you do this.

 

One View of Simplicity February 1, 2015

Filed under: green living,old fashioned,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 11:20 pm
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Ever since we started on this journey to a more simplified lifestyle 6 years ago, we are often asked why we would do this to ourselves.  It seems that society’s outlook on someone deciding to live within their means (or below their means) just because they choose to, is one in which the person is looked upon as having gone off their rocker.  For us, it seems silly that the media spouts off about the cries of conservationalists and enviromentalists for people to become more conscience of their use of fossil fuels and natural resources.  These groups often push for a more sustainable lifestyle that reduces the carbon footprint of each family.  Yet, here we are, doing exactly that and we are looked upon as being radical or weird.

I read an article today, “When Bread Bags Weren’t Funny” by Megan McArdle, that a dear friend shared on Facebook.  I loved the perspective of the author.  She was spot on in her views.  She shares in the article a glimpse into our nations past.  Not the distant past, but just a generation ago, using illustrations from the Little House books series as a comparison.

As I read the article, I was nodding my head in agreement to so much of it.  I have always held the belief that as a society, we have become spoiled.  Things that are relatively new (within 2 generations) have become so commonplace that people think it is impossible to life comfortably  without them.  One example of this attitude is the air conditioner.   When people first hear that we don’t use an air conditioner in the summer, they freak out.  They can’t understand how we can manage without one.  Truth be told, generations of our ancestors survived hot summers very well without air conditioning.  Even more interesting is to note that prior to my Grandma’s generation, women wore far more heavy clothing than we do today.  Yet, even in the deep south where humidity is  stifling in the middle of summer, these southern women managed to get through the season without health issues popping up all the time.

One of the issues that really makes me wonder at the thought processes of others is when people get weird over the idea of us using wood stoves for heat and cooking in winter while we have kids in the house.  Let me say this, even our autistic child who is developmentally delayed knows to never touch the wood stoves.  He doesn’t even touch them in summer when the stoves are not in use.  He simply has be trained to not touch them.  It is no different than teaching a young child to not touch a burner on your kitchen stove or to not pick up a glass object.  You simply train them.  Yet, there are those who cannot seem to understand this concept.

As far as the economics part of simplicity, here is my opinion. We are living on a single income.  My husband doesn’t make a huge salary, but a very modest hourly wage.  The wage is low enough that many families that we know would be looking for a second income to survive on a monthly basis.  According to the US Census bureau, the poverty line for a family of 4 is about $22,300 income per year.  Our family income is close to that.  Yet, we manage on this income.  How do we do it?

First, we don’t use credit unless critical.  We now have 1 credit card that is held in reserve for medical expenses only.  We are part of a medical sharing program and this credit card is what we use if we have to go to a doctor or buy medication.  Secondly, we only are buying essentials.  We see no need to go into debt to buy things that are unnecessary.  One point brought up in the article that I agree with is the opinion expressed about clothing.  In earlier generations, a person only had a week’s worth of clothing.  It was common for a woman to have what was termed her “work dresses” which were worn throughout the week.  These were the dresses worn as she did her daily tasks. The fabrics were sturdy ones that could take a lot of use.  For Sundays, she may have a single dress that was only for church or a special occasion, such as a wedding.  It was not uncommon for a woman to wear her Sunday best as her wedding dress.  When I was growing up, we got new (or new to us from the thrift store) clothes that were purchased just before the new school year began.  Our older clothes that still fit became our play clothes.  Each day, we would put on our school clothes before heading out to the bus.  When we got home, we had to change into our play clothes so that our newer outfits wouldn’t get messed up as we did chores or went out to play.  Today, many kids get a complete new wardrobe of clothing when school begins and they wear these same clothes whether playing outdoors or going to school.  Seldom do I hear someone talk about play clothes for their younger kids.  Often, kids today have more clothing than can fit in their dressers and closets.  Why?  Why would anyone need that many clothes?  How much money is spent on buying and maintaining that amount of clothing?  Where else could that money be better used?  It isn’t just the kids either.  Many adults have far more than they need, yet society says more is the better option.  If you don’t have a lot, then you are poor and underprivileged.  You are lacking in their eyes.  But who is truly lacking in this?

Toys for kids is another area where people go nutty.  In the Little House books, the Ingalls children had a special toy.  In the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, Laura writes about her sister, Mary, having a doll.  Laura’ parents couldn’t afford a doll for Laura, so Laura had a doll made by wrapping a cloth around a corn cob.  Later, she would get a doll of her own.  At that time however, Laura was happy to play with her corn cob doll.  Our kids have had a lot of toys given to them over the years.  We finally took on the task of buying each child an 18-gallon size plastic tote.  Because their bedroom is small, the toys that fit in their totes is all they keep.  We have given the excess to a thrift store run by a church that uses the proceeds for a youth ministry.  Our kids don’t feel slighted one bit by having to donate the extra toys.  They still have all their favorites.  Later, once the house remodel is done, they will appreciate even more the downsizing of their toys.  The room we are fixing up for them is the largest in our house.  We will be putting a wall down the center to give each of the two kids a room of their own.  Their rooms at that time will be about the size of a small bedroom in a single wide trailer.  More than enough room for them since they spend so little time in their bedroom anyways. Most of the time the family gathers in the kitchen/dining room or are outdoors.

My current project is attacking the homeschool shelves.  Every homeschooling family will shudder at the thought of what I am doing.  I am boxing up and donating all the excessive books that I have.  When I started buying them, I planned to use them with both children.  Now that I have a better idea of what Pookie is capable of doing, I know that it may be years before he can use some of these resources, if he is ever able to use them.  Instead of keeping everything on the hopes that he may one day be able to use the materials, I am donating everything Little Miss is not using within the next year.  By doing this, I will be able to clear nearly all the shelves.  Yes, like many homeschool families, I have a large amount of books and resources cluttering my shelves.  Not for too much longer though.

My feeling is that there was much to be appreciated about the more sparse furnishings.  The less you have, the easier to maintain and keep clean.  Purchases now are being considered by how much real use will it get.  I take time to consider each purchase and try to never buy anything on a whim or impulse.  Such was the way of things with earlier generations.  Money was scarce and they had to be thoughtful in considering each and every purchase they made.  Why is it so strange to others if a family lives that way now?  I can only think that it is because it is more acceptable to give in to our desires and wants without considering the financial consequences of those purchases.

As I think on that article mentioned above, I can only smile to think that someone else is “getting it” and understanding that there is no shame in choosing to live with less.