My two youngest kids recently finished reading Little House in the Big Woods for their literature class, and I haven’t stopped thinking about the book since. The book goes into great detail about the daily life of the Ingalls family. It shares every step of their game plan to stockpile food for the winter, from the harvesting of the veggies to be put in the root cellar to Pa’s hunting for meat that he’ll smoke and save for winter meat.
They share a scene where, at Christmastime, the kids are overjoyed to get their Christmas gifts: some homemade peppermint candy and some newly-knit-by-Ma mittens. They talk about bundling up with blankets, animal hides and hot irons as they prepare for a Christmas journey in the sleigh to their grandparents’ house.
All of this has me thinking about our own journey toward living with less. We’ve drastically cut down on our consumption of all things in the last three years. From kids’ activities, to money spent on groceries and eating out, to purchasing things from the home, to making our own laundry detergent and hanging clothes on the line instead of using the dryer, etc., etc., we’ve really made some big changes in our strive to live a simpler life.
Yet, when reading this book with the kids, it became obvious that there is SO much more we could do to live with less. I’m not sure what this looks like in real life. Most all of us have a tendency to compare ourselves with those who have more than with those who have less, and we’re no exception. When I compare our consumption with our former suburbia neighbors, we look like minimalist rock stars. When I compare us with the minimalist bloggers I find online, we look like over-consuming, clueless schmucks.
Since we’ve started our school year, the kids have been overwhelmed with our schedule, and everyone is getting a little cranky. There are some very valid reasons for this: we went back to the homeschooling co-op (one day a week “school” for home schooled kids) which we’d taken a break from for four straight years. This return to co-op has been a blessing, but adds extra work to our schedule. The school work loads for the kids are heavier than in previous years simply because they’re all a year older and a grade higher. We’ve had extra chores to do around the house as we prepare for winter.
In my quest to ponder where we can cut back so that stress decreases a little, I wonder where to start. All that we do is seems necessary, but it’s obvious that we’re doing too much. Is this just a season? Will things slow down as winter arrives? Or is ‘busy” just a part of life and we all need to “buck up”?
I’m not sure what the answer to this question is yet, but it presents another question in my mind, and that question is:
If we had less stuff, would we be less busy?
On one hand, the answer is “no”. The modern conveniences of today have afforded us the luxury of not having to hunt, kill and process our own meat or preserve our own veggies.
The other hand shows us where our “busy” now lies: in electronic gadgets, fun stuff, activities, etc. and the management of these things.
So, for us, the goal I guess should be to balance how much we live in the pioneer state (i.e. canning our own food, etc) with how much we reduce the use of today’s modern gadgets. Comparatively, we enjoy much less screen time than the average consumer, hanging out at about 4 hours per day instead of the supposed average 11 hours per day most Americans spend looking at a screen (she types as she’s looking at a screen).
Should we cut back? However, screen time isn’t the only time-suck in our family. There’s lots to clean and maintain. Maybe if we had less “stuff” we’d have less time that we had to spend on cleaning it and putting it away.
I’m unfortunately not presenting you with any answers today, only questions. How do we simplify life? How have you simplified your life? What have you cut back on/thrown away/stopped doing in order to make life less busy?
*Photo courtesy of Alan O’Rourke