I’d like to introduce you to a book that had a major impact on Betsy and me when we read it in the 1980s. In “Living More with Less,” author Doris Janzen Longacre outlines a pattern for simple living and provides how-to suggestions from Mennonites around the world.
“Simplicity is a narrow road of self-discipline, but the alternative — money and materialism — is only another master,” she writes. “With marvelous elements of surprise and mystery, disciplined simplicity offers freedom.”
The book has a Christian slant, noting for example that Jesus talked about money and wealth five times as often as he did about prayer. But most of it is about making sandals out of rubber tires, washing windows with newspapers, buying secondhand cars, giving no-cost gifts, making homemade cleaners and even pouring fat drippings on the soles and leather stitching of work shoes to prevent cracking.
For two baby boomers who grew up privileged in the suburbs, it was a revelation for us to read that “the best reason for listening to and learning from the poor is that this is one way God is revealed to us.” The book emphasizes doing justice, learning from the world community, nurturing people, cherishing the natural order, and freely nonconforming.
This suggestion from Carolyn Urich of Bluffton, Ohio is one we followed: “One of the smartest things we’ve ever done was to buy a large two-story frame house with an upstairs apartment. It is within walking distance of all our needs so we don’t have to be dependent on an extra car. Rent from the apartment pays the mortgage and taxes. Some improvements and part of the utilities are tax-deductible. Our lives have been enriched by our tenants.”
“Living More with Less” sets forth the Amish concept of Hochmut, loosely defined as pride. “It meant any way in which you tried to put yourself above other people and carried the connotation of stuffiness,” the author writes. The book includes chapters on money, clothes, homes, transportation, celebrations and recreation.
I agree with this observation from Grace Bergey of Hatfield, Pa. in the chapter on transportation: “Neighborhoods are more beautiful on a bicycle than from cars.” In the back of the book are recipes; I have often made the one for “Smokestack Chili.”
There are memorable proverbs such as “There are two ways to be rich: 1. Acquire great wealth. 2. Acquire few needs.” Here’s another: “Riches are like water in the house whose channels are obstructed; if it finds no exit it drowns the owner.”
We recommend “Living More with Less” to anyone seeking to live sanely in a troubled world.