Katie Carpenter wrote a thoughtful post entitled Can Minimalism Be Warm and Fuzzy? In the comments the author mentioned that she prefers the term ‘simplicity’ over minimalism.
I have a confession to make: my stomach lurches when I think of the term ‘simplicity.’ You see, in my mind, simplicity is far from simple.
When I think of simple I am reminded of my childhood in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Of days spent playing by the creek and laying in the grass. If those were my only memories simplicity would be a wonderful thing, but life back then involved much more.
Once a year it was time to dig a new hole for the outhouse. Two big guys would pick a spot on the edge of the yard and dig until the hole was above their heads. They would then clamber out, pick up the outhouse shelter and carry it over to this new hole. The first, stinky hole was filled in with the dirt from the new one and then everyone went home smelling like human waste.
Using those things during the summer months was an olfactory experience no matter how much lime you scattered in the bottom! Add to that the occasional newspaper or magazine instead of bathroom tissue (preferred by the simplest folk) and it was an experience you would likely never forget.
Then there was planting time. If you were lucky your neighbor would have a team of horses and you could pay to have your garden plowed but if there were no horses (or you had no money) you had to dig that sucker yourself. Even with a tiller it was hard on your back.
You plant and weed and plant again when some of the seeds fail to sprout. You fight to keep the chickens and the coons and the other wildlife from killing your precious plants. You pray for rain and water using your precious well reserves when the creek runs dry. Finally, in a mad rush of energy you harvest, can and store your produce.
The animals weren’t too awful bad but they required work as well. The hogs and chickens needed to be fed daily, eggs needed to be gathered and if you had a milk cow you had to milk her twice a day like clockwork and leave enough for the calf so that the cow wouldn’t run dry and the calf wouldn’t starve. The cow would be missing her baby so much during the day – she wasn’t allowed to stay with her baby because then the baby would drink all of the milk – so she would try to hurry you up so that she could spend some precious few minutes with her little one.
Slaughtering time was brutal and bloody. Chickens would be grabbed by their heads and flipped around like a children’s toy until their heads popped off or the person moved on; these animals flopped all over the ground on slaughtering day. Us kids had to pick them up by their feet, dip them in scalding hot water then pluck the feathers from their bodies before they were piled up to be eviscerated and tossed in the deep freeze.
The pigs and cattle were slaughtered when the cold arrived. A tripod and a come-along would be mounted in the clearing, the animals shot in the head and their throats slit before they were chained by the back legs and raised up to bleed. Some hogs were scraped, other singed and still others just skinned depending upon the preference of the owner.
Cattle were done the same way but in my experience we just skinned them all.
The pork fat was rendered into cracklins then heated over a big outdoor fire to make lye soap. You had to be very careful because one splatter could really hurt you.
No one threw anything away because it may come in handy. Grandpa had a whole building filled with empty bleach bottles when he died – saved for “just in case.” I remember my father’s frustration at his attempts to follow Grandfather’s path and keep everything. Occasionally he would give up and we would have a bonfire in the middle of the yard.
If someone was injured it would take hours to get them to a hospital – once when my arm was broken it took us most of an afternoon and a trip all the way to a neighboring city just to find a doctor. It was so far away that our car overheated on the interstate, unprepared for such a journey.
When I think of simplicity I think of unflushed commodes (when you had one) because the water was low in the well and whore-baths taken for the same reason. I think of having to carry and bury heavy buckets of human waste when an outhouse was not available.
I think of walking out to the outhouse in the dead of winter and freezing your butt off when you had to use it.
I am reminded of buying fabric in bulk and trying to keep it away from the rats and the mice then sewing sewing sewing to make an outfit for an unanticipated occasion.
I remember my grandmother in the kitchen, unable to enjoy a visit from her children because she had to cook. Simple meals are far from simple to prepare when you make everything from scratch.
These are the things I most often remember when I think of simplicity and the main reason why I use the term minimalist to describe my lifestyle. I want to have a minimum to clean, to care for and thus choose to only keep those things I find to be either beautiful or useful.
I keep my bills to a minimum so that I can work as little as possible – and I consider work to save money in the same realm as working to make it.
I keep my obligations to a minimum in order to maximize my time for what I truly enjoy – and I don’t enjoy mowing lawns, slopping hogs or killing chickens.
I keep things to a minimum so that I can relax and enjoy my life to the maximum – something I never saw in the simple livers of my past.
Sometimes we tend to look at things with rose-colored glasses and ignore how hard the reality truly was. I believe that the Simplicity Movement has suffered this fate.
What is your opinion? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.