Sometimes reading one book brings another to mind, and that was the case with my last read that featured an Amish woman as a main character. The descriptions of her routine and the simplicity she incorporated into her daily life reminded me of a book on my own shelves, one that I’d started reading a few years ago but hadn’t finished. It was time to pick that book up again. Doris Janzen Longacre is probably better known for her More With Less Cookbook, the iconic cookbook that taught people to use meat more as a flavoring or an ingredient, and that soybeans could be satisfying when cooked well (I own a copy of this too!), but she also wrote Living More With Less (Herald Pr, 1980), an inspirational book that seeks to aid the reader in simplifying their life and feeling the better for it.
Published posthumously after Longacre’s premature death from cancer, Living More With Less is written primarily for a Mennonite audience, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from reading. While religious belief and practice is woven throughout this book, its goal isn’t to convert or proselytize, more to remind its reader of their responsibility to their fellow humans. Why should we have so much when so many have so little? Regardless of your religious belief or lack thereof, it’s an important question that will have you thinking twice about what impact your every decision has upon the earth and your neighbors.
Ms. Janzen begins with chapters on ideals- doing justice, learning from the world community, nurturing people, and so on- then follows up with stories, anecdotes, and suggestions from others who have discovered how to incorporate these principles into their lives in sustainable, caring, and beneficial ways. While Amy Daczyzyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette, though partially outdated (yet still invaluable!), will give you a better rundown on thrift for the sake of thrift, Living More With Less is more about adjusting your entire attitude, a kick-in-the-pants, if you will, for your mindset about your relationship to this planet and all the people on it. Why do you need a fancy new car when there are people who have to walk miles in the burning sun in order to procure a day’s clean(ish) water? Why do you need ten pairs of shoes when there are people who struggle to afford one? How is it justice that you have more food than you need when your neighbors are starving?
While every suggestion compiled by Longacre isn’t going to fit your needs (you probably aren’t in the market to build a geodesic dome house, for example, although I’ve seen a few of these and they’re pretty cool), it’s enough to read and consider how to implement the theory behind these suggestions into your own life. Could you walk more? Carpool? Implement a brown-bag lunch day with friends instead of spending money on restaurant food? Make your clothing last or trade with friends instead of buying new? There are hundreds upon hundreds of ideas and recommendations in this book that something is sure to strike a chord in you, that will make you sit up and think, “You know, I could be doing that a little better…” One suggestion even talked about making ice outside when the weather is below freezing in order to not force the inside freezer to work so hard, and I sat back in my chair, wondering why I’d never managed to consider that before. Cripes. What else am I missing???
Doris Janzen Longacre was a visionary before her time. So much of what she includes in this book could come straight out of any hot-off-the-presses new release on simplicity and sustainable living. While some of the statistics in Living More With Less are surely outdated, the odds are that things have only become more dire, with more need to cut out, reuse, repurpose, and cut back so that the resources can go where they’re needed. Much like the recent, heartbreaking death of Rachel Held Evans, the world lost something special when Ms. Longacre passed away far too early.
This is a book that will have a permanent place of honor on my shelf, and I feel like I’ll turn to it when I need an attitude adjustment, to remember why I do the things I do. We have a Mennonite church in my town (right across the street from the community garden, as luck would have it! They’re Mennonite USA, as opposed to the groups who are one step up from the Amish, and are indistinguishable in dress from anyone else in town), and it warms my heart that there’s a group of people nearby who are so committed to the ideals and principles in this book, which I live by as well. Always nice to better understand your neighbors. 🙂
I can’t recommend this book strongly enough. Goodreads claims it’s out of print, but you can purchase a used copy on Amazon. I bought mine for a dollar from a used book store several years ago (the previous owner left the receipt in the book; they paid $10.95), and it’s still available at several branches of my local libraries. If you’re looking for a mental wake-up call as to the whys of simpler living, this is the book you’ve been looking for.
Two quotes I found significant in the book:
‘That way of living makes other people poor.’
‘The hard facts are that in order to raise significantly the standard of living of the many poor in the world it is necessary to lower the living standards of the rich. This means giving up some of the advantages the rich and powerful have in favor of the poor. It means a kind of political action and courage that has not yet been shown among nations.’ -Gordon Hunsberger
And I’ll leave you with a story which has vastly made me consider and reconsider what resources I’m using, why I’m using them, if I could use less, and how I could use everything more wisely:
‘In 1952 I was studying the Hindi language with my teacher Panditji. From his philosophic mind, which probed the meaning of events and circumstances, I learned more than Hindi.
I especially remember one lesson. It was Christmastime and as I awaited the arrival of Panditji, I quickly opened stacks of delightful cards, discarding the envelopes in the wastebasket. When Panditji entered the room, he sat down soberly and studied the situation. Then he solemnly scolded me in perfect English with these words, “The reverberation of this wasteful act will be felt around the world.”
Stunned, I asked, “What do you mean, Panditji?”
“Those envelopes,” he said, pointing to the wastebasket. “You could write on the inside of them.”
Chagrined, I apologized and began taking them out of the basket. He carefully helped me, almost caressing each one. For every Hindi lesson he taught thereafter, I took notes on the back of an envelope. Our class also began sharing envelopes with his growing family, for he could not afford [paper] tablets for his children. Today I still carefully save paper in my home and office.’