I’m half-way through reading my six-year-old The Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you grew up in America in the 1970s and ’80s like I did, you’re no doubt familiar with the popular TV series, Little House on the Prairie, based on Wilder’s books.
Both series recount life in the American pioneering days of the late-1800s, when homesteading was a common way of life and surviving meant living off the land.
I have always loved reading to my daughter and talking about books together but this book has been a particular conversation piece.
The premise of the book discusses life for a family living far from any modern (1860’s) conveniences. It describes in detail how they did things, like smoked meat and stored food for the winter, loaded a musket for hunting, or slaughtered a pig, and how each day of the week had a specific designation: “Wash on Monday, Iron on Tuesday, Mend on Wednesday, Churn on Thursday, Clean on Friday, Bake on Saturday, Rest on Sunday.”
Aside from needing to explain to my child what many of these tasks are—some of which neither I nor most of my friends even do anymore—it really made me stop and consider what sort of rhythm my own week has to it.
I certainly don’t designate a specific day to do laundry and even if I did, with our high-speed, high-efficiency washer and dryer, it would take me less than 3 hours, start to finish (including folding and putting away) to do it, leaving me with a good 14 hours left to fill.
My daughter thinks an iron is something you use to fuse Perler Beads together. Mending is for the errant button or rare hole. And the extent of our churning began and ended the time I bought heavy cream from the market, poured it into a glass jar, added a pebble and had my kids entertain themselves by taking turns vigorously shaking the jar for 10 minutes until it yielded a buttery treasure. Voila! Nature and science come together.
In short, there is no set rhythm to our week. When we need something, we run out to a store and get it. If I have dress clothes to wash and iron, they go to the dry cleaner. Laundry is primarily done by machines. And when I need to alter clothing, I use a tailor.
It all feels a bit decadent compared to life a century and a half earlier, when resources were limited and very little wasted.
I’m loathe to consider what a pioneer of the 1860s would think of our big box stores, the hours we waste watching cable television or the portion sizes in our restaurants?
I worry about the things we expose our kids to; forget the Land of Plenty, ours is the Land-of-Excess. Our largesse is accentuated in the names of family cars: Yukon, Armada, Grand Caravan, Town AND Country…Drink sizes come in Venti, Big Gulp or Super Size; and our “single serving” portions are enough to satisfy a family of four in many other countries.
To make our task of teaching moderation harder still, my husband and I are raising our kids in a town surrounded by affluent suburbs. Restaurants we reserve for nice date nights are considered family-style by some. Toys and gadgets we are slow to acquire—waiting for the opportune event or occasion to earn them—are found casually discarded at the local Take-n-toss section of the town dump.
We live in a disposable society, where people consider most things temporary. Everyone poised, anticipating the next-best-thing to spend their disposable income on. (The mere term, “disposable income,” in itself, is vulgarly offensive.)
So how do you instill moderation?
How do we teach our kids to live within limits when they are surrounded by examples of people paying for goods on credit; when our own government sets the standard of living beyond its means?
Here are some ways we try to exercise moderation in my family:
- Whenever possible, we try to conduct transactions with cash, in front of our children. (It’s amazing how much more careful you are with money in tangible form.)
- We order meals and split them. If someone’s still hungry afterward, we order an appetizer or a side.
- We try to instill an understanding of saving as well as donating to others. Every time our kids receive small monetary gifts, we make them put half in their piggy banks and a portion in their charity boxes, the rest they can spend. Large monetary gifts go right into savings accounts.
- We readily accept hand-me-downs and cheerfully set aside anything outgrown: toys, clothes, books. These items we pass on to friends or family with younger kids or we deliver them (with our kids in tow) to charity.
- We help stock local food pantries and keep open dialogue about how we have more food than we sometimes can eat but many around us are without enough.
- We donate our time to serving those in need through food donations, meal preparations, or sheltering the homeless.
- We watch world news with our kids and try not to shelter them from calamities and hardships outside of their buffer zone.
Back-woods camping may be the closest we ever come to homesteading but I still feel there’s a lot we can do to close the gap between having our kids assume that there is a glut of everything to their becoming aware that, in most cases, what they see is just too much.
How do you keep things in perspective for your family? Are there ways that you exercise control and moderation?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Senior Editor, Kyla P’an. Kyla also can be found writing about personal musings on her blog, Growing Muses. Kyla is a freelance writer, editor, mother-of-two, and trying to live with less.
The image used in this post is credited to Bruce Guenter. It has a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.