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.