Minimalism and the Housewife, 1907

It is not easy to determine, in detail, just which things are really necessary to refined and beautiful living, and which are the evidence of…ostentatious waste. -1907

The lifestyle of all the cool people nowadays–minimalism. Like most extremes, it’s the reaction to the opposite way of life of the last several decades known as materialism.

Have you ever looked at pictures of a minimalist home tour? To generalize my observations, they’re usually condo/apartment type homes consisting of one or just a few people. A twin bed, a nightstand that doubles as a dresser, and a small table with an uncomfortable looking, modern chair. Is it my imagination that most minimalists seem to be bloggers and writers? I’ve yet to see a homesteading, DIY minimalist. Yes, there isn’t a smidge of clutter or disorder anywhere. But I don’t see the personality, either. Where is the cupboard of favorite teas? The photo albums? The boxes of craft supplies? And most importantly, where is the stash of mason jars?

We can’t deny the mass quantities of possessions we all have these days, more than at any other time in history. Garage sales, thrift shops, and big-box discount stores have allowed even those with a small income to have stuff galore. Several friends and I have gotten together numerous times to brainstorm and share ideas on managing our homes more efficiently and smoothly so that ultimately, we spend less time at it. It took us over a year to conclude that the best way to manage our stuff is to simply have less of it to manage. (We may not be sharp, but we’re persistent…)

For those of us who make our home our profession, we can’t keep our equipment scanned and digitally managed. Ours are tangible tools, essential to running a household. A cherry pitter may collect dust 363 days a year, but when I buy 12# of cherries, every time I’ve had to shuffle it around in a drawer has been worth it. I keep several tins of thread in all colors, because I actually mend and sew clothes and things for the house. I may not know what color thread I may need for a future project, but I have enough variety that I’m prepared. Having supplies on hand means that I don’t have to interrupt my day to track down what I need and run all over town to get it. Who’s to say that we’ll always be able to access anything we need at any time? Life would be a lark if we never had to consider the future. But a good manager prepares for possible needs in various situations.

It’s not that the minimalism movement is all bad. I’m learning to be a little more realistic and less sentimental when it comes to hanging on to something I haven’t used and likely won’t in the future. I’m also learning that I don’t need as much as I think I do.  By culling the excess, I can spend more time, money, and energy on the stuff I do value. Like books. Ahem.

As usual, happiness is found in balance. The Shoppers and Hoarders on one side and Minimalists on the other can tout their ways of life but I think the rest of us can live peacefully in the middle, hanging on to what we need and use without feeling materialistic and greedy. 

Where do you stand?

My Summer in a Garden, 1870–Week 2

My garden, early June

This summer I’m comparing each week of Charles Dudley Warner’s gardening journal, My Summer in a Garden, to my own garden. I’m finding that I can relate to many of his perspectives, and this week, his thoughts are centered on weeds.

Hardly is the garden planted, when he must begin to hoe it. The weeds have sprung up all over it in a night.

Ain’t that the truth. Warner continues…

The most humiliating thing to me about a garden is the lesson it teaches of the inferiority of man. Nature is prompt, decided, inexhaustible. She thrusts up her plants with a vigor and freedom that I admire; and the more worthless the plant, the more rapid and splendid its growth. She is at it early and late, and all night; never tiring, nor showing the least sign of exhaustion.

I’m in the middle of that long wait for my seeds to sprout (or not) while weeds merrily enjoy their head start. I always hope I can identify my seedlings by the time they come up, but if I can’t, it becomes a “Where’s Waldo” kind of adventure. Here are two examples from my vegetable and herb garden this week.

Can you see the lettuce seedlings? The teeny light green sprouts in the center of the picture? Besides the fact that the weeds are much bigger than the seedlings, I’m also a little bothered that there are so few lettuce sprouts, but that’s a whole other problem.  I may just have to replant.

And then there’s this little disaster zone. Can you spy the dill among the quack grass? (I can barely see it myself but there’s actually quite a lot buried in there.) Sigh.

On the whole, though, my garden is off to a good start and not completely overridden by weeds, but we’ve had a lot of rain this early summer. I’ve had to watch the weeds helplessly from the sidelines as they have their way with my baby plants. But with no rain in the forecast this week, I hope I can get some of my weedy spots under control.

A final quote from my gardening friend, Charles–

…there is no liberty in gardening. The man who undertakes a garden is relentlessly pursued.

Weeds. They’re after me.

Take a Weekly Vacation, 1927

Last year we took a vacation that lasted all summer and well into the autumn, and yet the actual “vacationing” took place on only one day each week. John and I both believe in the re-creating powers of an occasional outing, and since we could not leave our little farm for more than a day at a time, we hit upon this plan.

Every Sunday morning last summer we were up before dawn and while I packed a well-planned lunch, John took care of the chores. When everything was in order for the day, our little car slid down the shadowy driveway and out into the open road. And with what joy we went out to meet adventure!

Sometimes we had a trip planned, to some resort or beauty spot, a visit to a distant relative, to the mountains or the lakes. Or again we started out with no particular destination in view, just following any road that took our fancy. Sometimes after a strenuous week we looked for a quiet spot where we might just rest among Nature’s beauties. A fishing trip, perhaps. At least that is what we called it–even though our idle lines bobbed on the sunny waters all day long and we never caught a thing!

Each of these trips brought its little adventure, its bit of beauty, a lesson, an amusing incident, a lovely memory to store away and think about and discuss all through the following week. Our Kodak album is filled with pictures that tell the story of each of those trips, and often during the winter we have taken them out and laughed and talked them over.

And best of all, we never missed a Sunday at church all summer. It was always possible to find along the way a church of our denomination holding services sometime during the morning. We always came away refreshed, awakened, with some old truth or some new thought to take with us on our little journey.

My Summer in a Garden, 1870–Week 1

The last frost date is upon us here in southern Wisconsin, and I have officially begun another garden season. Every spring I can’t wait to get out in the garden and by August, I’m wondering what I did with all that spare time I had all winter.

A few months ago, I discovered a book called My Summer in a Garden. It was written in 1870 and unlike many books from that period, it was funny. The author had me laughing over his frustrations and perspectives regarding a vegetable garden, which 150 years later, still resonates with modern gardeners. Here is how he introduces the subject of gardening.

“The principal value of a private garden is not understood.  It is not to give the possessor vegetables or fruit (that can be better and cheaper done by the market gardeners), but to teach him patience and philosophy and the higher virtues, hope deferred and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.”

I can’t disagree with him completely. I have to argue that my garden does give me produce and if not better, it’s definitely cheaper than market gardeners (or farmer’s markets) nowadays. However, along with fruits and vegetables, it definitely provides a healthy dose of character testing and building experiences…

Like last year when I harvested a whopping one sweet potato per plant, only to have them all freeze in my root cellar before I could use any.

Or when Japanese beetles covered my plum tree, threatening my first harvest. I went out three times a day to pick off those nasty things and drown them into a container of soapy water. (But the work paid off, because I got this harvest. And if you’ve never had canned plums, you’ve missed out!)

Or when the spinach that I hadn’t even started harvesting yet bolted and went to seed overnight.

Or when I planted hot summer crops, like okra, melons, and peanuts, only to have a record cold, rainy summer. (And you know what happened the years I focused on cool weather crops…)

But there are the surprises that somehow, make up for (most) of the frustrations…

Like one of my first gardens when I apparently sowed carrot seed with a heavy hand and every single one of them grew (this was not the entire harvest)–

Or the year when one potato fed several people–

Or finally, the year my tomato grew a terrific schnoz and a dimple. It was really hard to eat this fellow, let me tell you.

And so it begins, garden season 2018…deferred hopes, tests of character, blighted expectations, here we come!