You can take a Mennonite girl out of the country, but you can’t take the Mennonite out of the girl.
When it comes to simple living, we Americans get lots of things wrong.
- We waste.
- We over indulge in food and substances.
- We are distracted by our electronic devices.
- We use entertainment as a means of escape and titillation.
- We clutter up our lives with stuff. It spills out of our closets and lurks in our basements and attics like ghosts.
One of the reasons Amish and Mennonite farming communities attract tourists is that people yearn for a different, more simple life.
This tourism began in Lancaster County when I was a child growing up on a dairy farm with my young Mennonite parents whose ancestors had farmed the land for nine generations. Restaurants and businesses, like buggy rides and quilt shops, began the trend.
And here are some things I learned at my mother’s knee and in her kitchen:
- Use up leftovers and make something else out of them. This applies to food, packaging, clothing, furniture, and gardens.
- Eat hearty, work hard-y.
- Avoid the distractions and titillation of mass culture. No TV. No movies. No prom.
- House clean Spring and Fall. Hit every nook and cranny. Give away what is no longer useful.
- Make roll-ups out of leftover dough.
- Make braided rugs out of rags.
- Make quilts and comforters out of old clothing.
- Patch, mend, and darn.
- Don’t throw away the scraps.
I’m an author, former professor and college president, and former foundation executive, wife, mother, and grandmother.
I’m also a Mennonite.
And sometimes I laugh at myself. Because those old lessons in frugality just don’t disappear. Many contemporary Mennonites have this book on their shelves. It’s full of tips, but also explains the theological reasons we can live more by using less.
Here’s one tip that I’ll pass along because you may do it too – or you may find it preposterous that anyone does this.
What do you do with little pieces of soap too small to produce lather? Throw them away? Never! If you stick them together, they will eventually graft and you will always have a small bar to attach to a larger one:
What can you offer as a tip for how to reduce, re-use, and recycle?
I’ve written past blog posts on this topic if you want some other contemporary Mennonite ideas. And if you have comments below, I’ll be happy to respond. I love making new friends and sharing my heritage.
What little ways have you found to simplify life? What items on the list of complexities in modern life would you most like to change?
More About Shirley:
Shirley Hershey Showalter is the author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World. Spirituality & Practice named this a “Best Spiritual Book of 2013.” The first person in her family to go to college, she eventually became the first woman president of Goshen College in Indiana. After six years as an executive at the Fetzer Institute, Kalamazoo, Michigan, she became a full-time writer living in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She has two adult children and two grandchildren.