Simplifing our Life

What does simple living mean for us?

As I recently told another blogger, I don’t know why this lifestyle is called “simple”. It’s often hard work! Its also very rewarding as we grow together doing activities as a family rather than each one having separate interests. The children learn the value of a day’s effort as we work together in the garden or chop wood. Here’s an article about how an active, simpler lifestyle benefits kids’ health.

Lately we have been moving more and more away from popular culture in many ways. What does this mean and why are we doing it? We can break it down into a few categories: food, clothes, school, entertainment and other. A website I found recently had a good example of simple living. They live on a farm, can their own food, make their own clothes, the women wear headcoverings. They are very happy having escaped modern society. I liked her simple living description.

FOOD

We have let healthful eating be our guide. My husband and I are both overweight from unhealthy food choices in the past. We want to be a positive example rather than setting our kids up to be overweight. Since we started, we have seen fewer health problems. Also, our son is not so hyper. He used to be a “high energy model”. He is now calmer and better able to concentrate. It took a few weeks after cutting out food additives (even in toothpaste) for this change to come about. It was an unexpected but quite welcome side effect. Here’s what we did.

1. Severely limited eating out. We used to eat out 2-3 times or more each week. While this seemed convenient, it set us up for health and money problems later. By cutting back eating out to only a few times a month (or less), we are promoting healthy eating and when we do eat out, it is more fun. We have also saved a lot of money since homemade meals cost less. The drawback is there are more dirty dishes to wash.

2. Cut out pre-packaged and convenience foods and drinks. This one was the hardest change since our days are often hectic and we fell for the popular myth that it takes a lot of extra time to cook a decent meal. We ate a lot of these because they were quick and, well, convenient. However, they are not healthy with lots of sodium, fat, sugar, and additives. They are also expensive per (realistic sized) serving. I have also found that with a little planning, it doesn’t take much longer to cook the homemade version and it tastes so much better. It takes a little more time shopping until you get used to buying the healthier brands and ingredients. For instance: quick oatmeal instead of instant only adds 2 minutes and doesn’t taste like glue. Old fashioned oatmeal can be added with the water and cooked for 10 minutes rather than waiting until it boils to be added like the directions say to do. Plus its cheaper per serving, even more so if you buy in bulk. Adding fresh fruit and a little sugar to plain yogurt instead of the pre-fruited cups only adds a minute to either chop fruit or thaw frozen berries. The cups are 1/3 sugar by weight plus many brands have additives and coloring! If we want rice with cheese and broccoli, I make a quick cheese sauce with broccoli while the rice cooks. Bottled tea has a lot of sweeteners. If you like tea on the go (like I do), make your own tea then add fruit juice (I like lemon, orange, or pineapple) or a little honey before pouring it into a sipper. Put it in the ‘fridge overnight and you have custom iced tea to enjoy the next day for a fraction of the cost of bottled tea (see note about tea bags in buy in bulk section). Last night my husband pointed out to me that pre-cut veggies and salads are just another convenience food. Unless you use them all within a day or two of buying them, they tend to spoil. The uncut veggies last longer and are usually cheaper. We have a bread machine and make most of our own bread. (We just had to buy our third bread machine since the last one wore out a few days ago after about 9 years of heavy use.) It is cheaper than store bought bread (over $2 a loaf here in Alaska) and doesn’t have any preservatives or other additives. It only takes a minute to measure the ingredients and dump them into the machine. A couple hours later, yummy fresh bread. In the meantime the house is filled with the wonderful smell of baking bread. The one convenience food we can’t do without is Kraft macaroni and cheese.

3. Read labels. This goes along with #2. Once you switch to more healthy brands, shopping doesn’t take any more time than normal. Watch for traps. The more modified a product is, the worse it can be for your health. “Healthy” convenience products may have lots of substitutions to make them taste good. Low fat products often add sodium or sugar. No sugar usually means artificial sweeteners which are worse. I was surprised when I read sour cream labels. I found that many brands have more additives than cream. Try Daisy, it is just sour cream. The more long chemical names you can’t pronounce, the less healthy the food.

4. Buy in bulk. Most of the food cost is in the packaging so you pay extra for smaller packages. If you like smaller packages, buy a big one and divide it out yourself. This also reduces the number of trips you need to make to the store each month, thus saving on gas. You’re also less likely to run out of something right when you need it the most if you buy another big bag when the old one is almost but not quite gone. I then cut down the top off the old bag and store the old one on top of the new until it is gone. This isn’t to say we haven’t run out and had to make a special trip to the store, its just not as common. Things we buy in bulk include rice (25 pound bag), unbleached white flour (25 pound bag), sugar (25 pound bag), wheat for grinding (50 pound bag), oatmeal (50 pound bag), cases of canned goods such as stewed tomatoes (12 cans in a case), fruit in the winter (6-12 cans in a case), tuna (12 cans in a pack), crackers, olive oil (1 gallon jug which we freeze and pour into smaller jar as needed), mac and cheese (12 boxes per package), macaroni (8 pound bag), hot chocolate mix (5 pound can). Unless you use more than 2 bags a day, I wouldn’t buy tea bags in great bulk. They tend to go stale. I buy a box of 100 which lasts about 2 months. We also buy large bags of frozen veggies. I’m thankful for our pantry. Unfortunately, most new homes and apartments today are getting away from having space to store bulk foods. If you have the space, buying in bulk is a great way to stretch your food dollars. Unless you really have a lot of storage, only buy foods in bulk that get used regularly. Its not worth storing 8 cans of something if you only use one every few months.

5. Creative storage. I learned this from my dad. He lives alone and usually cooks for just himself. He saves empty large peanut butter jars. He buys small bags or rice, beans, flour, etc. Once he opens one, he dumps it into a jar. This keeps it fresh longer. Since the jars are clear, he can see when he is running low. Plus, they look pretty and organized on his shelves. He also doesn’t have to worry about bugs or rodents getting into the bags since the jars are hard plastic. For any bags, I use wooden clothes pins to hold them shut. It’s a lot cheaper than the “chip clips” sold at stores (you can get 50 wooden clothes pins for about the cost of just 1 “chip clip”). I’ve seen some families in humid climates use plastic trash cans with tight lids to keep bulk foods fresh.

6. Use fresh whenever possible. If we can’t get fresh produce, we will buy frozen (but not with sauce) before canned. Canned produce often adds salt or other additives. Fresh is more expensive here in Alaska, but worth it for the health benefits. To help with this, we plan to have a garden next summer.

7. Keep it simple. You don’t need lots of different foods to have a good meal. With a little creativity, left-overs can be great. We now eat oatmeal most mornings. We haven’t had cereal in over 6 weeks and don’t miss it. With this in mind, I bought More With Less by Doris Longacre from Christian Light Publishing. It has not only great sensible recipes, but also tips on ways to save on food budgets and healthful eating. http://www.clp.org/cgi-bin/shop.cgi?C=page&F=../pd&id=5983458496&I=331010 . I have now made and enjoyed 5 recipes from this cookbook and its the first cookbook that I have not had to go to the store specifically for foods to make a recipe. It uses foods we normally have on hand. The recipes are healthy, tasty, simple and usually only take one or two pots to cook.

8. Healthy snacks. Cutting out snacks is unreasonable, especially with young children. So we try to make them as tasty and healthy as possible. Plain yogurt with fruit, whole fruit, apple slices with peanut butter, celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, raisins, bread and butter, fresh cut veggies are some of our favorites. We do have chips, sweet snacks and desserts (usually homemade) occasionally but not regularly. The only candy the kids have had is from gifts or goodie bags from parties. We let them have only 1 piece a day as a reward.

9. A good ‘fridge and freezer is a must. When a fridge quit at one of our apartments, we decided to move our old one down there and get a new one for us. I love my new “upside down” fridge. It has the freezer at the bottom instead of the top. This makes it so much more convenient to get things out and see what’s in the fridge. Its also more energy efficient. My friend got one for their new house after seeing ours. Her husband is tall and was always buying more of what they had because he couldn’t find it at the bottom of the fridge. The shelves pull out and are clear which makes it even easier to see what’s inside at a glance.

CLOTHES

Neither my husband nor I have ever closely followed fashion so this was an easy one. What we look for is proper fit (neither tight and revealing nor baggy and sloppy), comfort, and cost. Neither of us like clothes that are so thin your underwear shows (this is especially popular with women’s summer shirts). A simple $8 t-shirt will do just as well as a $28 t-shirt with the latest slogan/picture/sports hero that will be out of style in 6 months anyway. If we do buy shirts with drawing or writing it is not violent or offensive. The t-shirt I have on now has a bear, a moose, and a beaver with backpacks and walking sticks. It says, “A Walk on the Wild Side”. Sometimes craft stores will have brand name plain colored t-shirts for just a few dollars instead of full price at a clothes store for the same shirts.

I got fed up with pants and jeans over a year ago when all I could find were low cut and/or super tight. I still prefer to wear skirts or dresses. Once I got used to wearing them, it now seems awkward wearing pants. I do wear pants for messy tasks such as cleaning apartments and working with the used cooking oil. I would like to find some longer skirts to wear cleaning so the only time I would wear pants would be when working with the oil. I had a great jumper last winter that I wore cleaning, chopping wood and other messy tasks but it wore out early this summer and I haven’t had a chance to find a replacement. Its been months since I wore jeans. In fact I got rid of a box full of jeans and only kept a few pair.

Some of my friends mocked me when I started wearing skirts, but have now realized I was serious. One has even started wearing skirts more often (but not everyday). One of the books from CLP that I ordered is on modesty in dress. I am hoping that after I read it I can pass it around my girlfriends to read then have a discussion about dress. I have worn dresses or skirts to do a wide range of tasks many women would say pants should be worn such as woodcutting, gardening, tent camping, and hiking. After all, women have only been wearing pants for less than 100 years, and socially accepted doing so about 50 years. Before then, they lived in skirts and dresses and managed just fine. Contrary the tight, immodest hemlines and waistlines popular today, long, loose dresses and skirts just look more feminine.

My daughter likes to wear dresses and skirts as well. I have a few tights and sweatpants for her in winter to wear underneath them. The summer she was , skimpy skirts were the rage for little girls. I wouldn’t get them for my daughter and got lots of compliments on how great she looked. My test was if she bent over and her diaper showed then it was too short. As a result, I often had to buy things several sizes “too big” to get them a modest length (not ankle length mind you but simply long enough to cover her diaper when bending over, usually top of the knee). This fall I found 2 dresses that are the “correct” size for her that are a modest length. There’s even been a few times when I thought a skirt was long enough but she or my son said it was too short! I’ve met other moms at the store that had similar disappointments with girls’ sizing this year.

My dress code for my son is also a bit out of touch with fashion. I don’t let him wear t-shirts with violent or rude sayings, drawings. He usually wears slacks or sweat pants if were not going out. In fact he has only ever owned 2 pair of jeans. Slacks are actually cheaper for comparable quality plus they always look “decent”. My friend brought him some hand-me-down jeans but after wearing them just one day, he decided to get rid of them because they were uncomfortable even though I thought they fit fine. We do let him wear shorts but they are usually longer than most other boys. He also gets compliments on his appearance. He is starting to be the age where he notices peer pressure about dress. However, he usually can come up with a logical reason not to dress like the other boys or modify it to fit our standards without offending his friends. Since my husband does not dress with latest men’s fashion, he is setting a good example for him.

Call me old fashioned, but I like sensible hats. In summer, we wear sun hats whenever we go outside. I think most ball caps look sloppy. I have cloth hats for the kids (which they love) and I wear a round brim straw hat. I do wear a ball cap with Alaska logo for working outside, berry picking or hiking since it stays on better. In winter we wear knit or fur hats. I don’t understand people who complain of being cold or cold ears but are unwilling to wear a warm hat. I also think it very hypocritical and vain to put a hat on a child but the parents go bareheaded. If the kids need a hat, I will lead by example and wear one too.

I do not wear makeup and haven’t since high school. I quit because it was too expensive and took up too much time. My husband both think inner beauty is much prettier than a woman with makeup. Proverbs 31:30 states that, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord she shall be praised”. Makeup styles change frequently along with fashion. Eating a lot of tomatoes and tomato sauce seems to help clear up pimples, which is one reason girls start wearing makeup. Another reason is peer pressure and lack of self confidence. A woman without makeup shows the world she can make her own decisions rather than following peer pressure and popular culture.

I am allergic to a lot of fragrances and it seemed safer just to stay away from them altogether. I once had to be taken to the emergency room after a clerk sprayed me with perfume while trying on a dress. I also try to avoid buying cleaning products with fragrance when possible for the same reason. There is an increase in asthma among young people today and one of several reasons is all the scents added to things.

SCHOOL

We homeschool. That’s pretty much out of mainstream society. There’s just so much wrong with public schools today that we don’t want to even begin. Fortunately, we have found a lot of support from our family and friends (several of whom also homeschool) in our decision.

ENTERTAINMENT

Popular culture has become obsessed with having to constantly be entertained. No more is it fun to just sit and watch the clouds or go for a walk. Instead you must be plugged into something while doing it, an MP3 player, cell phone, video console, etc. As people get more and more connected electronically, they are become more disconnected with each other socially at large and society becomes more impersonal. The very thing these gadgets were designed to prevent.

We see maybe 2 movies at the theater a year. Sometimes we are too busy when one we like comes out. More often though, we just don’t like what is being shown. They seem to glorify violence, sex, vulgarity (in both language and dress) and stupid decisions while mocking traditional family values.

We haven’t watched a TV show in almost 2 months and don’t miss it. We use our family time to read and play together. TV removes the human interaction from families. Sure they watch it together, but what good does that do their relationship? Plus we have the same objections to TV shows as movies. Unfortunately, we see reality mimicking TV as it pushes back values more than the other way around in popular culture. We do have some DVD’s that we like to watch.

We don’t listen to the radio other than in the car. The songs on popular radio are getting more and more graphic and away from traditional values. An oldies station my husband used to enjoy changed format to “70’s, 80’s, and whatever”. It’s a bit more conservative than the other stations so we sometimes like it. Plus they only will play a song once in a day so it has great variety. I like some of the talk shows on the AM Christian station.

We don’t own a lot of electronic gadgets. We have no cell phone, MP3 player, or PDA. These are just distractions. Plus, these gadgets are expensive. We use to have a cell phone and used it a lot until they started giving us headaches. The manufactures and government says they are safe, but we’d rather not take a chance on brain cancer. I think they are rude in most public places. If you’ve ever overheard a conversation, most people don’t use them to say anything important anyway. We have a pager if someone needs us in an emergency. Since we don’t listen to much music, why get a MP3 player? Ray carries a little notebook and pen instead of PDA. You can’t leave a note for someone with a PDA.

We have no video game console (either for the TV or handheld). They and the games that go with them are expensive. Most of the games glorify violence in some form. There is no creativity involved in playing a video game. I’d rather the kids play catch outside than football on a video game. If we want to play a game we will play cards, a board game, or make up our own. While we do have pre-loaded games on the computer, we have not bought any more. Most of them get boring once the newness wears off so you buy another then another. Its best not to even get started.

I agree with my dad that old fashioned board and card games (checkers, candy land, go fish, old maid, yatzee, monopoly, etc) are good for children and teach them many things. Plus, they are just fun. It makes them learn the value of rules, strategy, and fair play. Its pretty hard to cheat in video games but relatively easy with board and card games so honesty is also learned. These games can be modified for difficulty or silliness, thus teaching creativity. Even “casino games” like blackjack (21), rummy, poker, and hearts can be played starting about 5-6 years old. I don’t think by teaching children card games they will later have a gambling problem. If you model that card games are just fun then that will go a long way. Growing up, my friends and I often had card parties or game nights where everyone even siblings, parents, and sometimes grandparents or other visitors played. (This was at the Air Force Academy and later near Spokane, WA) In high school (early 1990’s), each Friday everyone played board and card games instead of regular studies. The teachers understood the value of games in learning.

For example: Richard chose (with no prodding from me) to play checkers during quiet time when Karen was starting her nap this afternoon. We played one game together then he played with the pieces by himself. He did pretty good. I thought he might win but made one mistake which I was able to take advantage of. I could tell he was thinking about what to move and we discussed some options at times when he was undecided which would be best. We both had fun. No batteries required.

OTHER

These things are important to our lives but don’t fit any specific category.

1. Sailing. We hope to move to our sailboat again for extended period.

2. We believe in peak oil. The global oil supply is not infinite but finite and is in decline. As such, prices will continue to rise, leading to shortages and social unrest (as is already happening in parts of Russia and eastern Europe). Conservation and development of alternative resources may help but can not totally remove the impact this will have. Simple living is our way of preparing for this change. This does not mean we are predicting doomsday. It just means we believe things are going to have to become much less reliant upon oil, and since everything in modern society is built upon oil, we need to be less reliant upon modern society. Since no one knows just how much oil is left, predictions about when the world will run out of oil are vague ranging from less than 20 years to over 100. One thing that is agreed upon is if we’re not prepared when it is gone, it will be catastrophic. Politicians and governments can debate about when it will be, but should be planning and preparing now in case its sooner rather than later.

3. We heat with wood. This is our third winter heating our home primarily with wood. We have also used homemade biodiesel and coal. It is a lot cheaper than heating oil. We have a permit to cut wood on state lands for $5/cord with 10 cord maximum per household per year. Plus we get exercise cutting, hauling, and splitting the wood. Its a good excuse for a nice drive. Inside Fairbanks city limits this is more difficult because they have burn restrictions when there are inversions (unfortunately, this is usually when it is coldest). However, out where we are several of our neighbors also heat primarily with wood.

4. Get rid of the clutter. Whatever is cluttering up your life, if at all possible get rid of it or organize it in such a fashion as to no longer be cluttered. This is true of not only the home, but also in life. Part of the stress of modern life is people being pulled in different directions by over-commitments. Its ok to say no sometimes. Other people are busy too and should understand that you can’t do everything at once.

It is better to have a few essential items which get used (clothes, tools, toys, etc) than a bunch of things you don’t use just for the sake of having them. Hopefully by doing this, the kids will learn the value of thrift, charity, and not to be pack rats given into consumerism. Here is a good article about toys.  We need to be realistic about what we keep. Will I really fit into or wear those clothes in the next year or so? Will he fix that broken tool or toy? We are starting to ask ourselves, “Do I really need this thing or is it just a passing fad?” This essential question needs to be driving both our sorting and future purchases. It has been a slow and sometimes painful realization for all of us, but I think we are going to be so much better off. It also goes against our consumerist modern society. We are trying to get into more “plain living”. This isn’t to say we won’t ever have new things, just be more choosy about what things to buy rather than falling for the “latest, greatest, more is best” theory so prevalent today. One thing that has helped is severely cutting back on tv and radio. We haven’t watched tv in a month and don’t miss it.

I feel horrible tonight but there is a stack of dirty dishes again that won’t wash themselves. I like to waken to a clean kitchen, although I often just stack them neatly to wash in the morning while my son does his schooling. Plus if I feel this bad tonight there’s no telling what I will feel like tomorrow. I did the dishes yesterday but we used quite a few today. That’s one drawback of not eating out, having to wash more dishes. Oh well. It is healthier and keeps us more in line with our new “plain living” philosophy. We expected there to be hardships, especially at first and today is one of those days.

Dishes done, basement cleaner, living room windows washed, right before bed I told my husband I wanted to clean the piano which had become a catch-all for papers and books that needed to be put away. Not the biggest mess in the house, but an eyesore since we have to walk by it going in and out of the living room to the hall. I was not specific about time, simply that it needed to be cleaned. He said, Why not now? Well it delayed bedtime by half an hour but I can relax in knowing the living room is much neater just from that one simple cleaning task. I also relax in knowing that we don’t need to clean everything all at once. Bit by bit it gets done. As long as we stay on top of keeping new messes from building up, the house will slowly be neat half an hour at a time. By breaking large cleaning jobs down into smaller, manageable tasks they don’t seem as daunting. Even if the overall job is not finished, we can still feel victorious in finishing some smaller parts. Every small part done leaves less mess the next time. So I ask you, do you have a daunting cleaning task that you have been putting off? Can it be broken into smaller chunks? Why not do one now?

5. While we are not an overly religious family, I would like to think that He guides us. If something would be offensive or goes against basic Bible teachings, we shouldn’t do it. This used to be the guiding principle of our country. Unfortunately, popular culture has moved away from God and is now seeing the consequences as high crime, poor schools, and a culture of disrespect. America is loosing our moral compass and common sense is now an uncommon virtue.

6. While we do use guns for hunting, we don’t allow toy guns or gunplay. We have taken Richard grouse hunting 2 times this fall. He isn’t allowed to shoot but gets to follow along and watch as his dad shoots.

Our 3 rules for guns:

1. Never point it at anyone

2. always assume it is loaded (even if it isn’t)

3. guns are not toys

For these reasons, we choose to say “no, thanks” to popular culture.

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7 Responses

  1. Very nice site!

  2. I agree with all that you have stated. And chuckled at your comment that you have now worn skirts for so long that pants seem awkward, I wore some old sweat pants a few weekends ago because I was painting the wash line posts, it was the first time I had worn pants in months and I couldn’t wait to put a skirt back on! A good source for jumpers, skirts, and dresses is the Goodwill, or about any thrift shop, and you can’t beat the price. Usually the items are in very good shape, because most people only wear a skirt for “good”, and get rid of it because they feel it is out of fashion.
    TV agree with all of your comments – I gave it up several years ago and have not missed it at all.
    De Cluttering – excellent comments – we keep clutter to a minimum – you just feel better without clutter.
    Keep up the good posts – it is nice to find like minded Christian people out here in internet land – 🙂

  3. Martine,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I had to chuckle at your painting in pants because last month our maintenance worker was painting an apartment. I went to check his progress and accidentally bumped the wall. I now have a white paint smudge on one of my denim skirts.

    I do sometimes shop at Goodwill. The one up here is very small with poor selection. However, we have a huge Value Village which has great selection usually.

    I wore pants yesterday making biodiesel. I didn’t want to take a chance on catching a hem and falling around hot oil and other chemicals. That’s about the only time I wear pants. I wear dresses for everything else, including gardening and cleaning. I just wear older ones for that.

  4. I too wear only skirts and dresses. One greatsite to shop at on line is simplymodest.com I love shopping there. They sell gently loved ladies/girls clothing. Everything I have gotten there is like brand new!

    Isn’t it funny how pants now feel so uncomfortable and forgiegn?
    Blessings Kelly

  5. Kelly,
    I’ve gotten a couple of things from them.

  6. Amazing how much of what you wrote, we do (or don’t do). I never really thought of us as living “simply.” We are just “weird” around here.

    It is horridly difficult to find long enough (longer than mid-thigh!) skirts and dresses for the girls as my older two like to wear those mostly.

    We also now have a supplier for wheat and grind our own to make our own bread. I’m not good enough yet to switch out “store bought” flour for our own ground stuff for “baked goods” yet, but I am able to do a mix (10%, 25%, etc.) sometimes without detection. We love our freshly made whole-wheat bread!

  7. We buy our wheat for grinding in 50 pound sacks but I still use white flour too. I mix it with the ground whole wheat. I make homemade pancake mix using all whole wheat flour. It makes more nutty flavor. I use half and half (ground and white) for breads but my husband makes it with all ground but the loaf is more dense. If you add gluten that helps perk it up. We usually make a loaf every day or every other day. I hardly ever buy store bought bread anymore.

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