Almost Amish (and a giveaway)

Comparatively (to some, but not most of the world's population) I might live 'simply' - one car, lots of kids in a normal sized house, cook lots, second hand clothes, cut my kid's hair etc.   But in reality - it's not much.  I could always do more.  Sew my own clothes, grow our own veges, have no car, no TV, no dryer, no dishwasher - the list is endless.  So I have to admit that I am drawn to books about the 'simple' life.  I would like to keep working at paring back our life, to simplify it.  I like to keep being challenged to think about it.

Thus I read 'Almost Amish' by Nancy Sleeth.  I really wanted to like this book.  I liked the sentiment of the book - what can we learn from the Amish that we can apply to our own lives?  And the research she had done about the Amish was quite interesting - their emphasis on time together with families, having Sundays as truly a day of rest (doing all your cooking/cleaning the day before), reducing the amount of time using technology.

But when it came to Nancy's applications of these principles in her own life, I couldn't help being a little disappointed.  I was hoping for some radical suggestions.  And what I got out of the book was - buy a Prius, have one car, bake your own bread (use your breadmaker to knead it ... um ... hold on ... 'breadmaker'?),  cut back on how much you Tweet, don't buy things you don't need, declutter, shop local, get involved in your local community and church, show hospitality (have potluck community events and get the dishwasher running to keep it simple ... um ... hold on ... did I read 'dishwasher'?), make soup to feed lots of people (just heat it up in your microwave ... um ... hold on ... did that say 'microwave'?).

Disappointing because none of it felt particularly radical to me.  There were a lot of appliances involved in this so called simple approach to life.  It all seemed pretty obvious to me.  So maybe I should have written this book.  Darn - I need to get better at perceiving the marketing opportunities my life might present ... !

And do you know why the book is called 'Almost Amish'?  The author was speaking at conference on living a more green lifestyle and in a Q & A session she was asked if she was 'almost Amish' because she ... wait for it ... hung her clothes out on a clothesline outside.  In the book she explains that this is radical because in the States this is perceived as something only those in the developing world/less well off would do with their clothes.  Or something that those who live in Australia do as a normal, everyday activity.

Perhaps the book could be called 'Almost Australian' ...

P. S.  GIVEAWAY!!  Since Fishpond sent me an extra copy of this book by accident you could win your own copy! So if you'd like the book, comment below on what you've done lately to try and simplify your life and I'll draw the name out of a hat for the winner.


Deb said…
'We value simplicity therefore we bake our own bread' is not the same as 'I bake my own bread therefore I value simplicity'. It's easy to think we'll get someone else's life if we mimic some of the outward fruits of it but that ain't always so.

So, Jenny, are you almost Amish? :)
wide eyed said…
I simplify my life by not doing a lot of housework. Why let that pesky noisy vacuum out of the cupboard? I feel it is my ministry to practise hospitality in a much less than perfect environment, so people can feel smug about their own sorted lives when they leave our house.
And I also use the dog, husband and chooks to eat all the scraps so I don't have to put them in the bin.
And I don't shop at markets - I go for one big shop at a major supermarket every couple of weeks under extreme duress - I call this simplifying by laziness.
Karen said…
Another vote here for not doing much housework.

I walked to and from school a couple of times to pick up the kids instead of driving (but that was only because the car was off the road for a week being fixed). We looked at caterpillars, lime trees and paperbark trees on the way. Enjoyed God's creation.

And tried to stop stressing out about stuff that I have no control over. Still working on that one.
JMS said…
The concept of living simply takes up a lot of blogging space, mainly in Bible belt USA. Being a blog junkie I am sure I have read them all and come to the conclusion that living simply is a "relative" term. ie "compared to those around me, I am living simply."

From these blogs there appears to be some suggestion that to live as a Christian wife/ mother is to strive to live simply and while I can see the virtue in this, yet again, it appears to have an undertone of competition and guilt and piety (welcome to mothers at the school gate and life generally).

However, some of concepts of simplicity really appealing. For example, many suggest identifying and turning off time distraction devices ie TV, computer etc. This of course makes sense as we can while away so much time. So having said this I will step off my soap box and feed my hungry seven year old begging me to get off the computer LOL, and hopefully maintain my Monday free TV night (which I have to admit started out as such because I left my Bible Study pre till the last minute haha).

Jenny said…
I think that is such a helpful point Julie - that what is claimed as 'simple living' by a westerner is actually just comparative simplicity. That problem sums up my frustration with the book.

I have to say that much of my interest in living more simply has actually related to the need to live more frugally. Not such a higher calling really!

Sad something that is meant to be a good thing has become yet another mum competition.
Jenny said…
And I'm still laughing over your simplicity wide-eyed. Sounds awfully like my 'how do you do it all' strategies!
Garth said…
As usual, we enjoyed your thoughts in this Blog, Jenny (does 'blog' deserve a capital?) Also enjoyed, and agreed with, 6 comments.
I think I live a simple life simply because I am a Simpleton. (does 'i' deserve a capital?)
Heather said…
I'm just reeling from the fact that the woman on the cover is wearing nail-polish. My first step to simplification has always been to abandon all beauty routines. (Also, I chew my nails every time I'm stressed and never have to worry about cutting them!)
Nicole said…
I never thought I lived that simply, but we only own one car too, so maybe I do!

Does using a slow cooker a lot count as living simply? Because that does simplify my life!
Motherhugger said…
There are lots of half-baked simple living books around. This blog is the real deal:

I've thought about where things come from and where they go long enough to think there should be a new name for environmental anxiety disorder, because thinking about all this can drive you crazy. I worry about the millions of bread bag tags in landfill. And plastic straws. And cardboard coffee cups and plastic spoons. See? It can drive you crazy. Without even moving on to electronic gadgets (minerals from the Congo, waste shipped to India). Some solutions are simple (dry clothes in the sun, eat less meat, clean with bi-carb and vinegar, compost), some not so simple (is it better to drive around scouring op-shops or just buy a cheap garment made in China knowing the environmental costs are not factored in, and the employment conditions are poor. Buy international fair trade, or local. Buy peanut butter made in China, or USA? What if something I want is overpackaged?) So, what do I do? I buy second hand, darn my socks, have never had a mobile phone or Foxtel, the kids don't have DSs or Wii, we don't have a dishwasher or an iron, we make our own yoghurt in the slowcooker, (the kids didn't like our home-made bread), pack nude food in the lunchboxes, bake at home rather than buying prepackaged, use rechargeable batteries and so on, but we still have too much stuff and make too much waste. I'm not doing without. I do order books online and have them flown to me. I do drive a car. It is hard to talk about with people without coming across as a self-righteous kook, so mostly I don't. I try to compare down, and be grateful, instead of comparing up and being envious. Simplicity, for me, is tied in with being mindful of the Earth's resources, as you see. It takes time to do things more simply, and time is a luxury a lot of people don't think they have.
Anyway, if you want to live more simply, the blog above is a great place to start.
Karen said…
Does it count that I make meals out of left-overs?!

Not sure...but needed to think of something, so I can leave a comment and go in the draw!
Yes, I'd like to go in the draw too so I need to think of something also!
To make my life more simple lately... my son's 6th birthday is coming up - he'd like a Star Wars party - so I am completely ripping off his brother's Star Wars party which was 7 years ago. I found the invites, menu lists, time plans, cake photos etc etc from the first one so I can replicate it without any fuss or extra thought having to go into it! No use reinventing the wheel :)
Karen W xx
Catherine said…
Hi Jenny,

I loved this book review - I always do like your book reviews.

Last night I read a short biography by Chesterton, and I thought a section of it was relevant to your post. It's long but I'll quote it - Chesterton is always worth quoting!

"One after the other of almost every one of the phenomena of the universe has been declared to be alone capable of making life worth living. Books, love, religion, alcohol, abstract truth, private emotion, money, simplicity, mysticism, hard work, a life close to nature, a life close to Belgrave Square are every one of them passionately maintained by someone to be so good that they redeem the evil of an otherwise indefensible world. Thus while the world is almost always condemned in summary, it is always justified, and indeed extolled, in detail after detail".

He's so right. Simplicity, handmade, free range eggs, home baked bread, iphones - they are all a way of trying to redeem something, trying to identify ourselves with some 'thing'and make it all worthwhile. It never really works, does it?
Someone once said to me that generations ago, life was tough but simple - now it is easy but complex. I think that's true. We don't really want the tough of the last generation (no electricity, no anaesthetic) but we don't want the complexity and dross that come with industrial change either. Bring on heaven, I say!

Enough from me - almost. I simplify in the winter by putting socks and undies through my environmentally unfriendly dryer. I hate hanging all that little stuff on the line!
Deb said…
@ Motherhugger
"I try to compare down, and be grateful, instead of comparing up and being envious."
Love that thought! So well expressed!
Meredith said…
Actually, our dishwasher (I've only had for a couple of years) simplifies my life no end!
And when life feels overly complex turning off the computer (blogs, emails and facebook) really helps. Obviously I am in a not so complex space right now!
Gina said…
Interesting Jenny. I'm obviously too late for the giveaway... mostly I've been simplifying by not blogging or reading blogs! Ha.

I'm really interested in 'voluntary simplicity' and had looked at this book but I'm glad to read your review... I think a lot of the stuff I read (some Christian, most not) is much more hard-core. I do however think that there is a place for this more gentle entry into simplicity, even if it is comparative... I think it was a more gentle book on sustainable living that got me into thinking I *could* make some changes, rather than being completely overwhelmed by the dreaded and unmotivating guilt.

Meanwhile these days we don't own a car... we're starting to grow veggies... we just bought chickens... no dishwasher but I just can't let go of the dryer yet!

I'm going the TEAR conference at Stanwell Tops in two weeks, on the topic of 'Enough' - thinking about what it is to have enough, what it is to embrace a life of abundance not accumulation... looking forward to it, nervously.
Jenny said…
Hi Gina

I would have loved to be at that conference. What a fantastic topic. I hope you are inspired to press on, rather than become overwhelmed and terrified!

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