One of my all-time favorite books is Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. I cannot read this book enough! Right now, I’m reading it for the fourth or fifth time and taking more intensive notes than I ever have before. God has been placing it upon our hearts to live more sustainable lives and to love and tend His creation. For the last couple of years, Anthony and I have been working really hard to live more with less. We got off track about a year ago when we moved back home to Oregon, but we’re slowly getting back to where we want to be. Eventually, we will switch from 100% electric lighting to 100% non-electric lighting, from owning a clothes dryer, to not owning one (and line drying all of our clothes), and we will cut down on our use of a car for any errand within five miles of our home (unless it’s on the way home from church or work, which are both more than 10 miles from home). We’re selling pretty much everything that is non-essential and that does not honor God. This includes home decor, clothing, and most small electrical kitchen appliances. This change began in the heart, and is moving outward, to our actions. It’s not so much that we want to be Amish, as that we want to honor God in all we do and say, and we want to be sure we’re considering long-term cost to our environment, neighbors, and our wallets, as opposed to short-term gain for ourselves.
The more we pare down, the freer we feel. We live in a small (by “normal” standards) two bedroom, one and a half bath apartment. It’s around 900 square feet and it’s ample room for the four of us. We park in a community car port and we live less than half a block from the schools, and less than one-quarter mile from a local grocer’s. Everything we need is within one mile of our home. Though we do not have a backyard, we do have a small patio, and we are using that to grow some food. We currently have cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, mint, rosemary, basil, oregano, broccoli, limes, lemons and oranges growing on our back patio. There is still room for our two girls to play out there as well. We plan to increase our crop by double next year, adding beans, cilantro, potatoes, radishes, cucumbers (for pickling), and tomatillos or some other type of peppers.
Our girls are expected to help water the plants, feed the pets (we have a small dog and a cat), and clean up after themselves, as well as set the table, prepare some simple foods (like cutting olives with a table knife, tear lettuce for salads, stir baking mixes, etc), fold laundry (towels, wash cloths, socks, underpants, cloth napkins, etc.), and sweep and mop tiled areas, to name a few. I also expect them to clean the bathtub every Monday evening. (They love that particular chore, since it means they’re the first to take a soak in a clean tub!) We do not pay our girls an allowance. We had been using a rewards system to bribe them to do chores, but we’re removing that from our home, since we don’t believe that it’s spiritually beneficial to bribe them to assist the family, or for any other reason. This can lead to a sense of entitlement, and that is not a spiritual blessing in any way, shape or form. Instead, we reward ourselves with time spent outside, such as a daily walk to the park to play on the playground. We live exactly a half mile from two different parks (one in each direction), both with playgrounds. Taking a walk to the park is a daily occurrence, provided it’s not pouring down rain outside. This is ample reason for the girls to complete their chores in a timely manner. They absolutely love going to the park with enough time to spend socializing with the neighbor kids.
We have significantly decreased screen time for our children, to a mere 20 minutes a day (for computer games on Sesame Street.org) and one movie a week, on Fridays, when we make popcorn and settle in on the couch as a family. This week, we watched Beauty and the Beast and all of us girls were delighted to discover that my husband knew all the words to every song in the movie! Anthony and I have cut down screen time for ourselves, as well. We’re working on cutting it down even further. It’s a tough habit to break! He is in online school, working towards a degree in forensics and criminology and I home school Theresa, using the internet as a frequent resource for her. (I have found very helpful videos on YouTube for my visual learner.) We have to be very mindful of how we are using the internet. It’s so easy to become distracted!
Our financial situation has always been bleak. We were love-sick kids who got married on borrowed time and borrowed money. We barely had two nickels to scrape together, and then we started having children. You can guess how that’s all turned out. 😉 We tried chasing after the “American dream” but found that for us, it’s more of an “American nightmare.” We have little interest in corporate America and even less interest in working far from home. We value our time together as a family, and our small home that allows us to be in close proximity to one another. Yes, we do occasionally (read: daily) drive each other nuts, but we also have some insanely funny moments. I would not trade this time with my family for anything, nor would I desire a larger house so that I could “escape” from my husband or my children. We make time for each other, and for ourselves. It all “comes out in the wash” as they say.
Behind our home is an empty property, full of grass, wild flowers, birds and often, deer. We love to stand on the patio, quietly talking to our friends, the deer. Right now there are five young bucks that make the trek to our “backyard”. It delights our girls to no end to see them out there, munching on the sweet grasses or laying lazily in the sun. I love listening to the hundreds of birds outside our window. There is a stream about 50 yards away, down a bit of a ravine, and I know the area is teeming with wild-life. I am in heaven here. There is always something new, something beautiful to enjoy, even in the middle of a small town.
Because we enjoy our friends the birds and deer so much, we want to preserve their land. Limiting our time in the driver’s seat, cutting down our carbon footprint, and reducing our use of non-renewable energies. We’re beginning to shop locally (which is an adjustment, I’ll admit! I love Fred Meyer!), frequenting farmer’s markets, purchasing locally made toiletries, using cloth napkins exclusively, cleaning with water and vinegar, and clearing our home of unnecessary clutter. (Clutter equals fire hazard, among other things.)
The reactions we’ve received about these changes have been, surprising to us, mostly negative. People ask why we’re striving to be so different, and ask why we’re trying to buy our way into heaven. It’s not about buying our way into heaven at all! It’s about ensuring there’s still a planet with fresh air, healthy (recognizable, non-genetically modified) foods, and room to run and play and explore nature, for future generations. Most of all, it’s about living in a way that allows us time to be free to do what we love best, and that is to love God by serving others. I cannot serve others very well when I am tied down to a large house, cleaning lots of things that I do not really need, and working at a job I hate just to be able to afford these things. That, to us, is the opposite of a dream.
God has deeply and richly blessed our family. I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve discussed leaving this town to go somewhere else and make more money, and on one finger the number of places and situations I’d rather be in. God has planted us here, and we intend to bloom right where He’s planted us. This, above all things, is the Amish way. We will bloom where God has planted us until it is time to be with Him forever in Heaven.