The Argument of Simple Living

The Argument of Simple Living

When my young groom balked at going hiking in the canyons of Utah because the cabbage crop was coming in, I realized that we might not be on the same page. "I'll buy a case of organic sauerkraut," I told him. "I'm not missing this trip."
For the last 25 years, our marriage has been a give-and-take over what we each consider "simple living." The lifestyle is important to us both, but we measure it with different scales.
Material things were never important to us. We have lived for months in the wilderness, carrying all we needed to survive. We attended log building school in northern Minnesota so we could craft our own home.
Todd taught himself how to wire, tile, roof, drywall, etc. We collected salvage and he made flooring, cabinets, doors and furniture. We reused paving bricks for our chimney, slate for our roof, stained and clear glass windows, even light fixtures. We grew most of our food, froze it, put it up in Mason jars, and made jellies, pickles and, of course, sauerkraut.
Back then, we earned about $20,000, saved $5,000, and went on at least one two-month hiking trip. We created a lifestyle where we did nearly everything ourselves, had zero debt and saved money.
After we had children and got better at our crafts, we made more money. I also spent more money, began to travel around the world, garden less and put more miles on the vehicles.
For the past 15 years, we have given workshops on "Voluntary Simplicity" to college students studying environmentalism. They tour our homestead, see the garden, woodpile, animals. We show them how we built our home, direct them in making hand-cranked ice cream and fire up our log Finnish sauna. We chat about choices, the value of freedom in your life (whether it's financial or free time), and the bonus of living lighter on the land.
But Todd thinks our workshop is now a joke. He thinks our imprint on the environment is "extreme." At year's end, he adds up my mileage, flights and expenditures - and concludes that the whole concept of "simple living" is in our past.
So I argue with him as I dip our bath water out of the tub and transfer it into the washing machine (after he bathes in the same water that I do). I argue with him as I haul the laundry to the wash-line. I argue with him while pushing a wheelbarrow of firewood and depositing it by the woodstove. We don't have a dryer, a microwave, a television, central heat, a cell phone or a fax machine and I've never felt the need for them.
My husband also has never used the indoor toilet during the last 18 years that we've lived here. He doesn't feel it's necessary to waste the water, so he uses his outhouse. Most people would say he is extreme, that our lifestyle is extreme. But, he says, compared to most people in the world, even he would be considered wasteful. It saddens him that we Americans are proud to be the most wasteful people on the planet, and not even aware of how extreme we are.
I understand when he says our lifestyle has changed from when we first dug in our roots. I understand I've missed out lately on the joys of digging my hands into the soil and the satisfaction of bringing a bountiful, healthy harvest to our table. But the whole world fascinates me, and using it to teach my children has broadened me way past our property line. My husband goes back and forth between the two worlds. We both do. He just has his foot more firmly planted in the terra firma.
In the end, the definition of simplicity is defined by personal choice - our decisions as we explore what is most important to us, discover what we each need to be truly happy, evaluate what we are willing to sacrifice and compromise. There are as many degrees as there are people. Every time we crank the motor of our car to run another errand, or purchase another item or pause to turn off a light, we are making decisions about how we live and the impact we make.
Our teenagers embrace our simple living concept, but they fluctuate, too. When Sierra was an adolescent, she began turning up her nose to the somewhat shabby sofa we inherited after my parents died. She said, "Don't you think we should get a new sofa?"
I replied, "We could. Or, we could use that money to go to Thailand for your 11th birthday and ride an elephant and kayak with monkeys in caves."
The very wise young lady answered, "I think the sofa looks just fine."

Cindy Ross lives in Pennsylvania and unlike some of the kids today, has a hard time coming indoors. So much so, that she has written 6 books about it. Her latest is with McGraw-Hill entitled, Scraping Heaven- A Family's Journey Along the Continental Divide. Now she fears she has inflicted her children with the same addiction to fun in the outdoors that she suffers from.

Distributed by Bay Journal News Service