Simplicity

This talk was given by our very own Amy Huser Company on November 10, 2013 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia where she worships on Sunday mornings.

When I was asked to give a personal faith story on the theme, simplicity, the first thing I thought about was how I am struggling to keep simplicity in my life w/ a 3 year old and an 8 month old.  But while I’m currently struggling with it, simplicity is definitely something I value strongly.

I come from a family and a faith heritage that highly values simplicity.  I grew up Mennonite, and still claim my “Mennoniteness” at the same time as my “UUness”.  Sue assured Joe (who grew up Mennonite as well) and I that we could claim both identities; the UUs excel at welcoming everyone!

Now, some of you may be familiar with the more liberal, progressive Mennonites, but often I get a quizzical look from people when they hear this fact about me.  I know they are wondering where my bonnet and horse and buggy are.  Well, there are pockets of the world that have a version of Mennonite that does not take being separate from the world to the extreme that the Amish and Conservative Mennonites do.  We look just like, well, us, and don’t have specific rules about dress, etc.  But we do have some important values that continue to inform my faith and life – the importance of community, living peacefully with all people (we are pacifists), doing service for the world in some way, and living simply.  All of these values stem from the teachings of Jesus and are core to the Mennonite faith.

Simplicity was a way of life in my immediate family as well.  My dad was a high school chemistry and math teacher, as well as a small farmer.  My mom stayed at home with three kids and taught piano lessons out of our home.  Financially, living simply was just the way things were.  I never was without something I needed, but one of my mom’s favorite phrases was, “Do you NEED it, or do you WANT it?”

Today for me living simply has grown into more than not accumulating material things.  It is about living in a way that tries to have a right relationship with people and the earth as much as possible, realizing that this is pretty much impossible.  This is NOT a simple task, and often it complicates things rather than simplifies them.  But if we want the earth to be around in any kind of livable form in the future we need to get serious about simplicity and treading lightly on it.  So, that’s a big motivator for me presently, realizing that I am far from where I’d like to be in my consuming, especially when it comes to the size of my carbon footprint.

One area Joe and I have tried to improve is our use of cars for transportation.  Not long before moving here we were the owners of three cars, a Riviera, Chevy Lumina, and Chevy Venture Mini-Van.  Mind you, this is with NO kids.  My husband’s grandparents, mother, and uncles own a Chevrolet dealership – hence – we will always be driving a Chevy!  Anyway, Joe comes from a family that always has cars everywhere, a different car for each different purpose, and so it didn’t seem ridiculous to him to own 3 cars for 2 people.

When we moved to Columbia from Goshen, Indiana in June 2006, we got rid of two of the three cars, hence we were down to one car for two people.  When we bought our house here, we purposely bought a house within biking distance of both of our work places with the idea that we would bike as much as possible and drive as little as possible.

While most people move “up” to the minivan size when they have kids, we moved “down” to the mid-sized Chevy Cruze-Eco version two and half years ago, after our minivan died on I-70.  We now get double the gas mileage we got with our mini-van.  This is an example of a move that really complicates our lives more than simplifies it.  Joe is like a great puzzle master when he packs it up for trips – whereas before we just threw everything in the van.  It also keeps things interesting when the weather gets bad.  We’ll see how long we can last with one car.  I am very motivated by the Thomas’ and the Gassman’s ability to be one car families even when kids get older.  It makes it seem possible!

Trying to live simply with children is a challenge, to put it mildly!  Joe and I decided we would like to have children, but it was really hard for me to rationalize adding another person to the world population and adding a person who would be growing up in what I often see as a fairly bleak future as far as the earth is concerned.  Our desire to have a child (and now two children) won out in the end, but didn’t mean my feelings of guilt or fears for the future went away.  When I was pregnant with Eden, I was determined to have the greenest, most eco-friendly approach to all things baby.  And I wanted to keep it SIMPLE.

As often happens with a first child, our friends threw us a shower to help us acquire all the “stuff you NEED” for having a baby.  It is not an exaggeration to say that I was a little freaked out about people giving us all this STUFF.  I had nightmares about large primary colored plastic objects filling up our serene living room space, not to mention the rest of the house.  I knew I needed some things, but wanted them to be used, to be eco-friendly, etc.  Then our sweet friends who knew us (me specifically) so well, did one of the coolest things I have heard of for our shower.  They surprised us with “Earth Friendly Acts for Eden”.  This was a list of acts they would take to make the earth a better place for kids like Eden to grow up in.  Here are a few of the things they pledged to do:

“An electricity free night”

“Encourage the neighbors to recycle.”

“Switch to the use of washable drink and dinnerware at work instead of disposable items.”

“Recycling egg cartons at the farmers market.”

“Turn up the thermostat to reduce energy use.”

“Removal of the last honeysuckle from the back yard.”

“Re-institution of the compost bucket.”

Wow.  What a gift!  It meant more to me than anything material we received for Eden.

That was almost 3 ½ years ago.  My determination to be the greenest mom ever is now more like, try to be as green as I can in each moment, and try not to stress too much when I’m not being the greenest mom ever (which is often).  Take it one day at a time.  I feel at times that my nightmares came true, and the house has been taken over by kid stuff.    It invaded and won.  The thing is, I’ve purchased almost none of it.  Thanks to family and friends who recently had children, we were able to get all the “big” stuff used, and could register for our showers at Poppy, The Mustard Seed, and CottonBabies.com, a cloth diapering store.  We continue to receive plentiful hand me downs, for which I am very grateful.

Molly’s question from her sermon last Sunday, “Does it add beauty and/or usefulness to your life” was helpful for me when thinking about all the stuff that comes with kids.  Crib, changing table, strollers, swings, bouncy seats, carseats, clothes, toys – oh the toys – books, and more books.  It of course also begs the question, “What is enough” (another from her sermon).  Well, we definitely have more than enough…but then there are studies about children doing better when they are exposed to lots of books at a very young age.  And toys can definitely be helpful in entertaining a small one, and good toys aid in creative and imaginative play.  So, they are serving a purpose.  Are they adding beauty…a few things, yes, but generally…no.  I do hope to pass this baby “STUFF” on to other growing households in the future, and help keep others from having to go to a big box store to purchase a stroller, toy, changing table, or whatever else they might need.

At the same time that I feel children brought lots of stuff into my house, my children help me to appreciate simple joys in life more than ever – the joy of a caterpillar crawling on a leaf, the joy of jumping in a puddle.  There are simple joys everywhere when you see the world through the eyes of a young child.

In order to keep a ray of hope all our children will have a livable and joyful world for their future, I strive to be mindful in all my consuming.  Anytime I make a purchase, I can hear my mother’s voice asking me, “Do you NEED it, or do you WANT it?”.  But beyond that, I want to be sure in any decision I make regarding consuming, I always consider the people involved in the process and the impact on the earth.  At the very least, I need to think about it and be aware, even if the decision is to go ahead and make the purchase.  I want to be mindful.  It often feels like thinking in this way complicates life, but in the end it helps me in striving for simplicity.

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