What Would Ma Ingalls Do?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Reclaiming my "Ma Ingalls"

(I'm hardly a writer, so here is my attempt at relating my choices)

a modern woman’s choice of simplicity in the 21st century

The majority of our society are locusts, consuming everything of abundance that is in their path. After one hundred years of more, more, more, bigger, better, “new and improved!” we have used up and annihilated most of our resources.

How can people living in this overconsuming society even consider Ma Ingalls and her arduous, efficient way of life when everything is so easily handed to us? Why would they want to? The term ‘voluntary simplicity’ invariably raises eyebrows, not many people out there get it and figure those who strive for this are Nuts. That is the difference between Ma and the rest of us, is that it was not voluntary for her and as life gets crazier it becoming less voluntary for us.

No longer are we taught how to be self-sufficient, to live by the motto "Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do" of our parent's or grandparent's generation. Now we are bombarded by hundreds of different ways to make our life easier and stress-free, so why isn’t it and why aren’t we? I am always curious when I meet my contemporaries who subscribe to this way of living. How did you come to it? Would you stick to it should a large sum of cash fall into your lap?

We all have our reasons for returning to that “simpler” way of life, maybe by necessity, choice or a bit of both. It is difficult to find people to discuss this topic with, as so many feel downright resentful to see others living in such a manner as it projects a glaring spotlight on how much they consume and add to the depletion of our planet's resources. They feel threatened.

Some days I wonder how I came to this point, why am I not like the masses and blissfully unaware of what my ways are doing to my well being, my family and the planet. Living in debt with a dozen credit cards maxed out and living paycheck to paycheck. I choose this lifestyle because I loathe having to depend on anyone, apparently it’s the way I am wired. Dependency leads to chaos when your supply is interrupted, example: todays economy, peak oil…I may get the strange looks and words whispered behind my back but I find taking the road less traveled to be far more fulfilling.

The best advice I ever received was from my grandfather, the son of late 19th century/early 20th century pioneers, he said that nothing should be bought on credit. If you do not have the money then save it up and make do until you can pay cash. During that time you discover whether or not you really need it. Like Ma and Pa, he never wanted to be beholden to another and it is a good rule to live by. I think I am one of the "lucky ones" because my grandparents were an integral part in my upbringing, I watched and learned a lot from them, both children of farmers, both living through the Great Depression. I was taught to make do but our American culture can be mighty tempting with its siren's song of commercial temptations. Let's have a big house that practically does everything for you, products that make our lives easier and leaving us free to do....what? A big glitzy car, a store full of colorful, shiny new things to choose from, disposables to make life more convenient (pay no attention to the landfills full to bursting). I admit to fighting daily desires for these things, I think Ma would too.

As life in the 21st century grows more volatile and uncertain I find myself looking to Ma Ingalls, how did she cope with the many changes?

The woman worked, she worked hard, something that is a foreign concept to recent generations who want something for nothing. Many of our modern day problems stem from our “new and improved” ways of life. I admire the simplicity of the pioneer life but I am also a child of the latter half of the 20th century. I will always aim to make do but I will always admire and desire something to make life easier to.

So for those of us deemed “radicals”, let’s make do. It makes for more work but take a look around at those around us, we are a society filled with increasing numbers of unhealthy and fat people. Making life simpler has left us fat, lazy, depressed and uninspired.

So! Here are my goals and thoughts on simplicity:

Recycling goods, bartering and trading: Just last night I chatted with an online friend who trades her extra chicken eggs for services form her friends. What a concept!

I am frequently disappointed when I see that most will do for you if you give them cash, what happened to swapping? Trading? The internet has some fantastic websites promoting recycling, Freecycle most notably. We do not need brand-spanking new things, gently used or even hard used but sturdy and useable if given some TLC. For me my choice to live simply is more of what effects overconsumers have on the planet and it’s inhabitants.

Clothing: I know someone who insists on buying a completely new wardrobe each season. I will wager that the majority of her clothing is made of manmade fibers, something that really doesn’t last in most cases. How many make their own clothes? Sure many of us are hopeless behind the sewing machine which is when thrifting comes in mighty handy. Sewing one’s clothes has become a lost art in our affluent society. I recently ripped my shorts on who knows what, most would toss them and buy new ones. I cannot boast that I took scrap material and patched it but I did patch it, with a store-bought iron on patch. It’s not perfect but it’s a start.

Food: This is where I tend to alienate myself from the majority of people in the various online groups I have belonged to over the years. I like cooking from scratch, I keep “make a mix” blends handy instead of depending on prepackaged or canned goods that are filled with preservatives and who knows what. I prefer eating fresh veggies and fruit that I have grown. Canning and preserving gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I can do this for my family. I aim to eat seasonally and regionally, Annemarie Colbin’s The Natural Gourmet is a wonderful book which promotes this way of eating, I highly recommend reading it. Now I am not about to begin cooking and eating the ways of the pioneers, I do have some splurges that are a must, olive oil being one of them and good chocolate being another. I like to experiment with cultural recipes, but the main focus of my diet is what I can get locally.

Entertainment: This is where my partner and I butt heads, he is very media-centred and I grew up without a tv and locked outside on all but the most inclement of days. I found my own entertainment something my child now struggles with as she has two very opposite parents. Thankfully she is happiest outside, her preferred “toys” being sticks, rocks and whatever she may find outside. I do admit to having an addiction to this time-suck called the internet. I am addicted to the ideas I find, knowledge I acquire and people I meet in cyberspace. Hobbies, learning fine old arts which in turn can also grace your home decoratively with your handiwork. Saves a bundle at those big home furnishings stores.

Homeschooling and the one income family: It’s a hard thing to do some days, this family of three living on one income, one income that twenty years ago was sufficient to support a family of six quite well. Homeschooling has been a hard sell for my partner’s family and, at times, my partner. I am seen as selfish and overly attached, overprotective because I want my child with me instead of in school or at a daycare/babysitter while I work a lousy paying, thankless job. Homeschooling gives me freedom, freedom to live slower, get to really know my child. Having her work beside me each day teaches her skills and gives her knowledge of things that many adults have no clue of themselves. She will be self-sufficient and a wise protectress of the planet and its innocent inhabitants.

“DIY”: Recently my partner and I built our chickens a new coop and pen from mostly found materials, it cost us maybe $25 and we now have room for our 15 layers and probably room for a few more. Now Ma gets all the interest but I have to admit I admire Pa as well, he built their barns, homes and furnishings. I can relate to Pa, I like to think I have a fair balance of the two. Having forked out $3,000 two winters ago to have stairs to the cellar put in and discovering that the carpenter hired did a pisspoor job I am more determined to arm myself with the know how to do it myself in the future. I think the only thing I’d rather not mess with is all things electrical.

Now these are only a few areas, homekeeping is another subject all its own with non-toxic cleaners and what not. Ma Ingalls had a hardworking simple life, it was not perfect every moment but I imagine at the end of the day she fell into bed utterly exhausted and she was content and happy with the life she chose and built. She admired pretty things and dreamt of special items that were more of a splurge by her standards. When it comes down to it, that’s all we are really after, a sense of contentment the problem is we have to work for that contentment. We were not meant to have everything done for us, if that were the case we’d still be attached by our umbilical cords to our mothers.

5 Comments:

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Lisa B-K/Jim K said...

Thanks for the book link. I can't believe I've never seen it!

I find your family history fascinating. I think it's a good jumping-off point. I have an essay somewhere about my mother being a "crafty 70s lady" that would fit in well here on the site, I think.

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

Yep, yep, yep. I find myself living in both worlds sometimes and I am always looking for ways to get more into the self sustain camp...but debt. Damn. Wish someone had told me at a young age to stay away from debt. It's a huge struggle for us.

Love The Natural Gourmet. Faboo.

Your background is soooo interesting.

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger PBS said...

Homeschool is totally worth the effort, I homeschooled my son! Interesting blog, I like the name, too!

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger MsAmber said...

You are my hero. Keep on keeping on. If you have any questions: fire them at me. I have a pretty good background in self-sufficiency.
(I also do electrical and mechanical.)
I'll be reading.
MsAmber

 
At 8:01 AM, Blogger MsAmber said...

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