In our technology-filled life and landscape, connected to “the grid,” working as “cogs in the machinery of society,” we can lose touch with (or lose altogether) the skills and the delight and the contentedness of being able to do things by hand, from scratch, start-to-finish, garden-to-table, wilderness-to-kitchen. The art of homemaking has been complicated into a series of tasks not accomplished without the intense intrusion of technology, supposedly there to make tasks easier, and making us capable of driving ourselves crazy. Some tasks have perhaps been simplified, but at the expense of the satisfaction of having actually accomplished the task. The rat maze of modern life is bound tight with things that we do in order to simplify our existence. But what is simple about modern life, except that a lot of it doesn’t require any thought or creativity, since that has been simplified out of it? There are multiple processes which we accept as just a part of our modern existence, and probably even think they are beneficial.
But are they?
Instead of washing dishes by hand, drying them, and putting them away (at which point the task has been completed in no more than a half hour of time), there is the intrusion of the dishwasher, taking about as much time to load, run, dry, and put away the dishes as it does to do them by hand. Add the confusion of someone partially emptying a dishwasher, only to have another person come to add more dishes and no one knows if the dishwasher is clean or dirty.
Instead of everyone having fewer clothes that we wash by hand only after they are actually dirty and then dry on the clothesline, folding them as we take them off the line (at which point the task is finished), we have more clothes that we wash more often before they are actually dirty, dry in the dryer, only to forget about them and need to re-dry them to fluff them before we can fold them, which are then put into baskets and then forgotten again, until the laundry has piled up from a week of laundry-doing (because we do it so often, there is actually laundry to pile up), and then in desperation it is folded wrinkled anyway, by which time another two or three loads are waiting to be washed. All because we have a washing machine and dryer and we can wash and dry that much laundry.
Instead of well-planned trips to the grocery store or to town once or twice a month, there is the temptation to run to the store whenever you think of something you need, simply because we have a vehicle and either live close enough to the store to do that (that was our situation in Illinois), or because we drive by the store on our way to and from work multiple days a week.
Instead of having a couple of highly useful appliances, we have five dozen different ones that all do different things – supposedly to make life easier. If you can find the one you need and remember how to use it.
Instead of nutritious, simple meals, we complicate our lives with prepackaged foods, processed foods, and quick trips to a drive through over the lunch break. And then we wonder where the obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and general malaise come from.
We don’t memorize phone numbers, because we don’t need to – they are all in our phones. We don’t keep written, sweet records of communication with people in the forms of letters and cards, because it is all stored on the computer. We don’t keep a tidy recipe book or recipe card box, because we don’t need to, those are on the computer, too. We don’t print favorite photos to paste in a family album – instead, we have folders and folders of digital images, stored on our phones, computers, Facebook, that take ages to sort through if you ever want to find something, so we never look at them.
Please don’t understand me as saying that we should just scrap technology and modern advancements (although…I’m not not saying that, either…), but how much meaning has been added to our lives by our modern conveniences? Arguably, none. Spiritually speaking, absolutely none. Socially speaking, well, I think the studies and people’s attitudes and ineptitudes speak for themselves. Physically speaking, we may live longer but we’re all sicker and feel crummy and are depressed from all the craziness. So, arguably, none.
Yes, I’m being somewhat facetious. Just somewhat. Because just how much do we really gain by running ourselves into the ground with convenience?
Living further out of town automatically simplifies one’s life, to a certain extent. It no longer makes sense to go to the grocery store “in a pinch,” because it is simply too far away – hooray. Hanging a clothes line and even doing some laundry by hand has simplified my part of the laundry process. We only have one washing machine, which is half a mile up the hill at Grandma’s, so eliminating at least the clothes dryer helps to make laundry day more pleasant, at any rate.
So some ideas on how to simplify would be as follows (i.e., how I envision a perfect life):
- Live at least 45 miles from a town with a Walmart.
- Live at least 15 miles from a town with any kind of store.
- Keep a stocked pantry.
- Cook from scratch.
- Wash dishes by hand. Even better, wash dishes while making dinner and avoid the dreaded pileup.
- Only wash clothes when they need it. It really is okay to wear clothes more than once, believe it or not.
- Make use of the clothesline. And fold it as it comes off the line. There, nary a wrinkle.
- Limit bathing. No, I’m not kidding. Unless you have a job where you get actually dirty, you don’t need to shower every day. Honestly. Believe me.
- Keep chickens, if for nothing else than to have to say “no” occasionally.
- Grow a garden. Revel in the time it takes to pull some weeds and water.
- Get rid of appliances if they double the purpose accomplished by something else.
- Put the stupid phone away. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to see a dating couple sitting at a restaurant with their phones out.
- Spend real time with people, doing real things, and having real conversations. Pursue real relationships with the 10 people you actually like and want to know better, rather than electronically with the 300 people you feel like you sort of know through social media.
- Look up and seek out the constellations. Look for spiderwebs in the grass, dewdrops on the flowers, pictures in the clouds.
I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I can enjoy the satisfaction of taking the time to accomplish something start-to-finish from scratch without “conveniences”: from-scratch meals, sewing projects, housekeeping tasks. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I have the time and energy to spend quality time with people I love. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that there is a routine, and a flexibility within that routine. I desire to live a life that is simple, in that I can actually say “yes” to things that come up, rather than wondering if it will fit within the busyness of a scheduled-out week. I desire to live a life that is not caught up in the things that don’t matter, but in things that do, in things that are lasting and eternal, not in things that are temporary and fading. I desire to live a life that is simple in its effectiveness, its sweetness, and its genuineness. I desire to live. Perhaps some of what I’ve said is idealistic and unrealistic. But I would rather err on the side of idealistic and only partially get there, rather than err on the side of realistic and not get there at all.
Convenience is one of the altars of modern humanity, and on it we sacrifice our time, our sanity, our joy, our relationships, our kids, our health, our dreams. Although simplifying our lives is by no means the answer to life’s problems, simplification can be a part of shedding the numbness we get used to when we are so strung out trying to accomplish everything – we succeed, but only at the cost of our calm, our content, and our joy. Be willing to slow down, and shake off the insanity of convenience.