|John Burroughs at home.|
“Home is the nicest word there is.”~Laura Ingalls Wilder
Living space is important to us all; from the earliest times of human habitation the home has been a place of shelter, a base, a storage area, a sanctuary and sometimes a fortress. A simple home can be made in any dwelling so don’t imagine that you must have a country cottage with a large garden; start with the idea of making the most of what you have. If you are unhappy where you live - it may be noisy neighbors, lack of privacy or lack of space - then you should consider moving. It may be an upheaval, but it could mean a better rest of life for you and your family. If you are unhappy in your own home, then you are unhappy; you need to do something about it!
|(C) K & R Lovegrove|
The Peaceful home.
As far as the home goes, the most important thing is peace. Peace does not just mean lack of noise; it means lack of stress, lack of conflict and freedom to enjoy what you are doing. All of these things can be worked towards and many are dealt with later in the book, but let’s start with noise. If you have children in your family, they will create some noise; this is how it should be. Children make some reasonable noise as they enjoy themselves and, unless it is at some antisocial time of night, or early morning when they might disturb neighbours, let a reasonable degree of noise alone. However, you may be producing other noise which is layered on top of natural family noise and may encourage everyone to raise their voices. Sometimes people are actually eating together with television and washing machine and dishwasher all noising away in the same room!
Try to work for the bulk of your day without music, without radio and especially without television. Use these things when you ‘want’ to use them, but avoid using them as background noise; in fact avoid using anything as background noise. Try to make your home a place of simple quiet. It is sad that so many people use devices like radio and television to cover up the noise from other peoples' electronic entertainment, and some even use noise to stop themselves thinking! You might like to consider moving radios and televisions out of rooms used for eating and sleeping in, or getting rid of them and doing without them altogether. Avoid using washing machines and dishwashers when the family is gathered together; to make it a more peaceful time all-round. Most devices have timers and you can easily arrange for the noise to be happening when you are out of the house.
If you need personal time without noise and distraction and find it difficult to establish, then do try to get up early in the morning before others can disturb you. For many, it is the only way. Noisy neighbours are a menace and you may well want to consider moving house if the problem is not solvable by negotiation.
|(C) K & R Lovegrove|
Above all, your home should be as stress-free as possible. Do your personal best to avoid arguing and shouting at children or partners. The home is a very important place where you and your family live together, so every effort must be taken to find ways around problems that do not involve direct, and energy sapping conflict (see chapter 11). The Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ is often translated simply as ‘peace’ but it does mean more, including the concepts completeness, prosperity, and welfare; use the word often in your home and try hard to work towards its full meaning.
"If you have an important decision to make, or you find yourself in circumstances where you know not what is best to do or answer, spend at least one night in meditation. You will not be sorry."
Amish ~ Rules of a Godly Life
Where you live
Whether you rent your home or buy, you have some choice in where you live. For most people the restricting factor is money. Whatever your income, think carefully about where you want to live and what you want to do with your life that involves the home. Never buy as an investment. We live in uncertain times and houses are for living in, not for trading. However, if you like your home and you like your area, chances are you won’t have any problems when the property eventually goes back on the market. If your home is too big then downsize; if your home is too far from your work, then considerer moving closer; if you want to live in the country then do it! Where there is a will there is a way. It may involve other deep life changes, but it will be worth it! If none of these solutions are acceptable then you will have to make the most of your current situations, whatever the drawbacks.
Consider carefully how rooms are allocated within your house; most of us inherit room use from the people who lived there before, but you can be fairly radical in what you do. For instance, if you have three children in three bedrooms, why not look at two of them sharing and the third room being changed into a study area which they can all take advantage of? Look at how you and your family spend their time and make sure the usage of rooms matches this. If you have an underused room, consider changing its function to something more useful, and above all, don’t fix and fit things that don’t need fixing and fitting, free standing furniture is much more adaptable to new positions and even new functions. You can move it around as circumstances change.
“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
~ Maya Angelou
An important aspect of simplicity inside your house has to be lack of clutter. To de-clutter a house may take a long time, but is worth the effort, and once you have opened up some space you will reap the benefits. Many people get attached to objects, but many others are reluctant to get rid of things because they paid good money for them in the first place; this is a mindset that you have to get away from. If you paid a lot of money for something that now has to go, then that is it!
Avoid selling things - it causes more problems than it solves; the easy way to get rid of unwanted things is to give them to charity. Small items can be donated to charity shops or community jumble sales and bigger items of furniture and electrical goods can often be removed from your house and redistributed to needy families. Above all, don’t throw things away if they can be recycled or reused by others; waste is never a simple solution to any problem, it just moves the problem elsewhere.
What to get rid of
Two years is a long time, so if you have things that you have not used for two years, then chances are you can do without them. All those things that ‘might come in handy one day’ probably won’t, so get rid of them! If you have more than the necessary number of items in your house, three televisions, two toasters, fifteen egg cups etc. then reduce the number to reflect your needs. If you have things in your house that are gifts which you neither need nor like, give them away. If you have collections of things that were once a prospective hobby, decide whether it was a passing fad. If so, give them away. If you ‘attract’ items like ballpoint pens, coat hangers, notebooks or keys that no longer fit any lock, give them away. If your children have grown out of equipment, toys and games, give them away. A note of caution here - don’t do this behind your childrens' backs - involve them fully in the de-cluttering process. If you are friendly with a family with children just a bit younger than yours, then why not offer to pass clothing and other items to them, but always check first that they want them.
For anybody truly wishing to lead a simple life, given our knowledge of finite world resources and pollution, you have a duty to recycle whatever you can. Don’t throw anything away that can possibly be recycled. Your local authority will have the means to collect paper, glass, plastic and metal together for recycling and they can also recycle used batteries and broken light bulbs or make them safe. Most authorities also do a splendid job on taking electrical equipment and stripping out the recyclable materials.
Charities collect any number of objects and materials including clothing, shoes, curtains, books, CDs, DVDs and spectacles; some also take used postage stamps and ‘bric-a-brac.'
Don’t assume that what you give away has to be in good condition; charity shops generally ‘sell on’ unusable clothing to make industrial cleaning cloths or even blankets. Used clothes that seem to be of little use can be lifesaving in disaster areas or war-zones. Make sure that your house has recycling bins on each floor and make sure that everyone in the family uses them; sorting the recycling gives useful lessons to younger members of the family.
Get in the habit of reusing objects and materials in useful ways; used jars and bottles can be used for bottling your produce (called canning in North America), containers can be used for storage and waste wood can be used for burning in wood-burning stoves. (If you don’t have one, then give your wood to someone who has.) Unwanted CDs and DVDs, especially those given away as promotional material, can be used to help scare birds away from your growing crops. Worn jeans can be turned into shorts in seconds by using a pair of scissors, and the removed legs can be stuffed and made into draft excluders for the gaps under closed doors. Knitters will be able to unpick unwanted garments and remake them into something more appropriate. The Amish use old shirts, dresses and petticoats to make those astounding quilts; if you can use a sewing machine or can sew well by hand, you can make good use of much unwanted clothing.
Assuming that your house is de-cluttered and that you have left those things that you really need, you are probably at the ‘replacement only’ phase – that time when you don’t need to buy anything for the first time - you only need to replace things when they are past repair. This, of course, will not be the case if you are expecting a first baby, or if you or one of your family has developed a medical condition that needs specialist equipment, but for most of us, we have all that we need in terms of material goods. A simple lifestyle should not be about replacing things just because they are out of fashion, or because we would like to change them; things should need replacing only if they are no longer fit for purpose. All simple households, certainly mine, have ‘heritage items' – those things that are regularly used and have active life still in them, but would not be your choice if you were buying them today. Consider simplifying these items; furniture paint can be stripped off back to the natural wood, or given a fresh look by painting it in a colour that is of your choice. Chairs and sofas can be transformed with a throw or simple cushion covers. Very ornate furniture can be transformed into something more functional; in our home, we have a large, pre-war German sideboard which makes a wonderful cupboard for produce storing!
When replacing items, durability is important. Several years ago I remember standing and waiting outside a huge DIY store; I watched large numbers of people coming out with trollies bursting with goods, happily loading them into their cars. Turning around I could just see the entrance to the town's ‘dump’ - there were similar numbers of people queuing up to discard unwanted goods. It struck me then that some purchases from the DIY store probably only had five or six years' active life (sometimes even less) before they would be taken to the dump and disposed of to landfill – this is why our planet is in trouble!
Replace items when needed with things that will last, things that can be recycled, things that can be handed on, things that will not be victims of fashion trends. This kind of replacement may cost you more money, but over a lifetime, it will save you more money, time and inconvenience.
Where possible, buy things made of wood. For the price of any item made of MDF, plastic, plywood or some other substitute you can buy something made of real wood. It may be second hand, but it is still a better buy. Wooden items last longer, are more easily repaired and decorated, they generally look better and are less environmentally damaging to manufacture. Eventually at the end of a long and useful life, wood can be burnt for energy – no wood need ever go to landfill. Choose wood for flooring, kitchen worktops and cupboards when yours need to be replaced and choose wood that was grown close to you - native hardwoods rather than tropical woods that have been harvested from rainforests at considerable environmental cost! You should never need to buy wood that comes from another continent unless you live in the Antarctic! Wear and tear on wooden floors and worktops can be made good by sanding down every decade or so, while a laminate floor is useless once wear and tear have taken their toll. You can buy re-used timber for flooring and furniture and it looks aged, faded and wonderful. If you have any carpentry skills yourself, then use them to make and repair your own furniture where you can.
The Shakers developed furniture-making skills and the products of their labours have outlived the Shakers themselves. The furniture always manages to capture a simple form, but with inbuilt practicality and durability. Few of us can aspire to own real Shaker furniture, and few of us have the carpentry skills to make anything quite so simple or so beautiful, but we can follow the Shakers in their aim to have houses with useful, long lasting, well designed and well-made items of furniture.
To keep your house looking clean and simple, paint it. Forget complicated ideas of wallpaper or other textured surfaces, paint is the simple solution. Use only three or four colours throughout and you will save money by buying larger pots – moreover, you will always have some spare to ‘touch up’ where necessary. If you live in an old property with uneven and irregular walls, then don’t worry too much about that; if the surface isn’t perfect it will look all the better for painting. Light paint shades help make rooms look bigger, brighter and contrast beautifully with dark furniture. Avoid fashion colours that will make your home look dated very quickly and distract from the atmosphere of simple quiet space that you want to create. Always try to buy paint which is minimal or low in volatile organic compounds; it is far more pleasant to use and will cause less harm to the environment.
A simple home should be easy to clean and for this reason, carpets are not as acceptable as a wooden floor with rugs. You can easily sweep a floor and wash it when needed; carpets, on the other hand, need to be vacuumed cleaned and occasionally shampooed. In any case, nothing looks more simple than a wooden floor. At windows, simple curtains with wooden poles are best. Avoid strongly patterned curtains which will ruin any simplicity that you have worked hard to establish in the room . Chose light curtains for summer, but in the winter, heavier curtains will hold in the warmth better. Washable curtains will save dry cleaning bills. Old curtains can be turned into any number of things with some simple sewing machine work; cushion covers, bedspreads, tablecloths and throws can all regain a new lease of life - although you may need to think about dyeing the fabric (see chapter 6).
Make as much use of natural lighting in your home as possible; above other things it’s free! Draw back curtains in daytime and keep the window glass clean on both sides, whilst avoiding blocking any window light with objects. In colder months draw all curtains around the house as darkness falls, which keeps it cosier and helps prevent heat loss. Electrical lighting should use low energy bulbs in all areas except where you need the brighter light of a halogen bulb for activities like reading and needlework. Battery-powered LED lamps offer some very good solutions to the problems of lights for dark cupboards and for getting around the house in the middle of the night without disturbing the whole family. During family meals, try candles or butane gas lamps for a more relaxed atmosphere – we regularly do this in the winter months and the children really love it. Get your family in the habit of turning off lighting when not needed. For outside lighting, avoid lamps that light up the neighbourhood for no good reason. Security lights are particularly irritating; if you need lights outside, carry a flash-light or get some solar powered lighting that costs next to nothing to run.
|(C) K & R Lovegrove|
Some have decided to do away with electrical lighting altogether and rely on other methods of lighting their homes; this is fine, but do consider that, just like mains electricity, oil and gas lamps burn fossil fuel. Perhaps a more environmentally aware solution to the problem is to keep the electric lights, but consider the use wind or solar power to generate your own electricity.
For most households the living room is the most important place in the house after the kitchen. As it is a place where the family gather, try to keep it open and uncluttered. You may like to consider moving the television out of this room altogether to some less prominent room of the house. You might like to consider moving most of your furniture out of the living room altogether and replacing it with a long refectory-like table with enough seating for all the family; it can be used for working, talking, hobbies, reading or even eating. If you can encourage your family to spend winter evenings around this table, you will save energy use in other rooms. Even if all members of the family are engaged in different activities quietly, they are also spending the evening together in companionship. These family times, even if simple, are the things which your children will remember when they are adults.
|Vincent Van Gogh 1889|
Bedrooms should be the simplest rooms in the house. If you can possibly manage it, keep everything out of bedrooms except a bed, a small chair and table and furniture for storing clothing. If your bedroom is full of suitcases and storage items, of cardboard boxes, excess clothing and clutter, then see what can be disposed of or sent elsewhere. Bedrooms do not need televisions or computers or any form of amusement other than a small pile of bedside books and a light to read them by. Keep your bedroom sacrosanct for sleep and closeness with your partner.
Energy in the home
|(C) K & R Lovegrove|
As for choice of fuel, most of us live with what we have; however, if you do have the chance to put in your own heating, avoid fossil fuels and go for wood burning. Some areas do not allow the burning of wood for domestic heating, so check with your local authority first. A modern wood burning stove will heat the room, heat your water and run a central heating system. Wood ashes are compostable and wood as a renewable resource is in plentiful supply in most areas. Wood should be well seasoned (aged and dried), otherwise it will not be a clean fuel and will cause problems such as pollution and extra chimney sweeping. Find yourself a fire wood dealer who convinces you fully that they are operating ethically and that the wood they supply is from a managed source where felled areas are being replanted.
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
~ Edith Sitwell
Your home is a place in which to live in peace. It should not look, or sound, like a high tech control centre for space missions. As an exercise, wander around your house one night before going to bed. Look at those red and white glowing lights, not forgetting the green flashing ones. What are they for? You don’t have to be anti-technology to be simple, but you do need to question your need for every appliance.
|Edgar Degas 1873|
The Shakers have lessons for us here too; everything must have a place, and if it does not then it cannot be put away. It sounds simple, but many of us have things in our homes for which we have no real place. If we leave things sitting where they are, in the hall or beside the sofa, then after a few days we fail to notice them and they become “invisible”, but to others they look like mess! Try at all costs to avoid storing things in ugly containers; a pile of toys may look a mess, but a plastic box of toys also looks pretty awful! Invest in simple baskets and wooden chests, new or second hand. These will be more expensive than the ubiquitous plastic box, but will have years of use and can change function when you want them to. Always run a basket for things that need mending; a basket for socks that need sorting and a basket for laundry pegs. Once these items have a home they will stop piling up in odd corners of the house. Laundry bins are vital and if you have the room, keep one in or near the kitchen for used table linen, tea-towels, and those odd items of dirty laundry that seem to come home daily in school bags.
Unless you need items on a daily basis, store them away where they can be found, but not where you need immediate access to them. Very small items like drawing pins, buttons and tubes of glue can be happily stored in screw-top jars that once contained jam, peanut butter or the like; then they can be kept safely in a draw or on a shelf.
An appearance of tidiness is impossible to achieve if drawers and cupboards are left open. The rule to teach children is to put ‘whatever’ in the drawer or cupboard and close it! When leaving a room, put dining chairs under tables, put away things that go away, and never go upstairs or downstairs without checking to see whether some object or item that is lying about needs to make the journey with you.
Technology may help with storage. An mp3 player can store thousands of CDs and only takes up a very small space, and if you have no more room for books, a Kindle or other e-book reader can save you ever having to build a new bookcase! Likewise, if you have large numbers of family photographs you might consider scanning them into your computer. This technology can induce simplicity and reduce clutter, so think carefully whether you should adopt it. If you are keeping files electronically always take care that your files are backed up on a ‘cloud’ to prevent loss. Many free ‘cloud’ storage systems are available - so do some homework.
Some things have to be done - cleaning is one of them. Like most things that contribute to a simple life it is better to look upon cleaning as something that is part of your life and not something that has to be got out of the way so that you can get on with your life. Simple décor will help keep cleaning jobs in proportion; wooden floors need sweeping and washing, painted walls need occasional washing and windows need regular cleaning on both sides of the glass. Cooking ranges and refrigerators need very regular attention as do wood burning stoves. Sinks, toilets, baths and showers need to be kept spotless and dusting needs to be done. Some other jobs will crop up once a year; ‘spring cleaning’ is traditional, but you may want to spread annual cleaning chores throughout the year to avoid spending all spring indoors! It is possible that you can clean your own chimney; however, you will need rods and brushes for this, so the investment in them and the storage of them could mean that this is one job for which you prefer to use a professional.
As for cleaning products, stick to very few; ordinary floor cleaner will clean most household surfaces and can even be diluted to refill spray ‘bench cleaner’ bottles. Wood is best cleaned with soap solution and then treated with ‘wood oil’ or polish. As for paintwork on door-frames and window ledges, soap solution and a scrubbing brush works fine. Use only ‘pump action' sprayers and avoid aerosols altogether. Old style ‘natural products’ like washing soda, vinegar, methylated spirit and beeswax polish are invaluable and every bit as good, if not better, than over-perfumed and expensive branded items. After some time of being scrubbed with washing soda or soap, painted surfaces develop a faded and slightly worn appearance. It looks just fine - carry on!
The space that you have outside your house will be increasingly important as your life becomes more simple. It is surprising how many jobs can be done outside if you have the will; fresh air is a joy so don’t miss an opportunity to take advantage of it. Both growing food and the eating of it in the summer months takes place here. Again, if your present house is lacking in outside space you need to give some serious thought to moving house. In chapter 5 we give some consideration to how to grow food if you have no garden space. As for eating outside, a table big enough for all the family is ideal. Cooking outside need not involve expensive equipment; a charcoal barbeque stove made of recycled bricks and old refrigerator shelves works fine – we use one ourselves.
Your Moving Space
Since the middle of the twentieth century, the idea that has shaped our society is that people need mobility – not only for work, but for leisure as well. The almost universal ownership of cars has defined us in terms of freedom of mobility, the ability to work away from home, and to travel for leisure – yet it has also defined us in terms of social status. If you live in a city, do question whether you need a car. Public transport can only get better if more people choose it. A salutary lesson is to sit down and calculate the real cost of motoring; cost of car (total cost divided by years of use less resale price), MOT, maintenance, insurance, ‘road tax’ fuel, car-wash, parking etc. Take away from this figure the amount that a season ticket for transport to and from work, and other trips will cost you and you will then have a figure of how much it costs you to drive! Giving up your car may seem like a giant step, but it can be a liberating step. It may not be for everyone, but it needs considering.
If you live outside of a large city, then you may find that public transport is just not good enough and that you need to have a car. Rural readers will almost certainly be in this group. The question for you is how many cars your family needs. If only one of you is working away from home, then perhaps only one of you needs a car? Certainly choose a car that is no bigger than your needs. What is more wasteful than a large ‘four wheel drive’ vehicle delivering one person to work each day?
Think carefully about your transport needs and decide if a very small car will do, given that you can hire a larger car by the day if such a need arises. Consider also whether you can ‘car share' with others in your neighbourhood or your workplace - the savings can be considerable.
Many groups in North America such as the Amish and Old Order Mennonites have chosen not to own or use cars, but they are free to use taxis, trains and boats when the need arises (aircraft are generally never used). A move to ‘horse and buggy’ can only be a pipe-dream to most of us, but we can consider the Amish principal of living very close to where we work to avoid the need for long and expensive journeys.
You can, of course, cycle or walk to work. If this is your choice remember that you will need better protective clothing and footwear than those who pass you in their cars each day, but a fine pair of walking shoes costs less than a new car tyre! And for those of you who use public transport, consider the boundless joy of travelling with a good book as a companion!
"Are our homes places of peace, joy, and contentment? Are they an influence for good in the neighborhood, community, and country?"
Ohio Yearly Meeting (Quaker) ~ Book of Discipline
You may like to read
Old House Eco Handbook: A Practical Guide to Retrofitting for Energy-Efficiency & Sustainability KevinMcCloud, Roger Hunt and Marianne Shure Frances Lincoln 2013
Getting older property up to the standard of insulation of a new build while retaining the character of the house.
The Wood Fire Handbook by VincentThurkettle 2012 Mitchell Beazley
Full of advice on wood burning including log splitting and seasoning,
How to Live Off-grid by Nick Rosen 2008 Random House Group
A book that looks at more radical solutions to questions about where and how to live.
How to Live Well WithoutOwning A Car: Save Money, Breathe Easier, and Get More Mileage Out of Life by Chris Balish 2006 Ten Speed Press
I think the title says all you need to know.
Text (C) Ray Lovegrove 2014 ~ All rights reserved.
(NB Links are for North America, European readers, please click on Amazon UK box on right hand side of page)
Text (C) Ray Lovegrove 2014 ~ All rights reserved.
(NB Links are for North America, European readers, please click on Amazon UK box on right hand side of page)