An Alternative to the Must-Haves

I went to the woods, because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.   Henry David Thoreau

I wandered into the Tractor Supply Co., yesterday, on the recommendation of the cashier at the local Wal-Mart, looking for a pressure cooker and some canning supplies. I'd already been to three other stores, looking for the illusive utensil, and was willing to make one more stop, before heading back to the cottage and my bushel of pickling cucumbers. I didn't find the pressure cooker, but I picked up one of those cute little two quart baskets that farmers measure and display fruits and vegetables in, the interwoven type that you'd imagine Little Red Riding Hood carrying on a trip to Grandmother's house.

At the check-out stand, I picked up a copy of the, Mother Earth News, The Original Guide To Living Wisely. The little logo in the upper right corner promising that, Every Issue Is A Green Issue, caused me to bristle a bit, but the cover photo of a colorful array of home-canned pantry items intrigued me, as did the headline, Save Big on Groceries.

Considering the amount of gas I'd used driving around western Pennsylvania, looking for produce and supplies, I found it hard to believe that I'd be saving anything on my home-cured and processed pickled vegetables this season.  But, I was curious as to what my future savings might be, so with some apprehension, I purchased the magazine along with the basket, and headed home.

Nine quarts and four pints of pickles later, I sat down to see what Mother Earth was all about, and was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying the publication, despite the green logo that some left-of-center editor felt compelled to include on every page.  Mind you, I don't have anything against protecting the environment but, I'm leery of all activist-social-agendas, and I'm sick to death of having the politics of green, crammed down my throat by media executives and liberal minded politicians.  I get it already!  Leave my lightbulbs alone, and go bother somebody else.

Most of the articles in the issue at hand, were geared toward the small acreage organic farmer or gardener. A few were a bit "crunchy" for my taste, but I found the information in the rest, of interest to anyone prescribing to a more wholesome, self-sustaining, country-lifestyle. Of particular interest to me, was an editorial of sorts, entitled, Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich, in which the author advocates that, "by consciously adopting a simple lifestyle, we give ourselves the opportunity to be satisfied and happy, whether we strike it rich or not."

The concept of living a simple, slightly more agrarian lifestyle, is by no means new to Americans of my generation.  I vividly recall the whole "back-to-earth" movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  We were the first school children taught, not only to pick up after our selves, but, to police for litterbugs.  With the kids on patrol, our parents could no longer get-away with tossing their empty cigarette packs, coke bottles and gum wrappers out the car window.  The litterbug campaign worked, and our highways and bi-ways were transformed overnight.  I felt the power!   

At thirteen, the movement had me hook, line and sinker!  I remember dragging my mother to a funky new shoe store in Birmingham, Michigan to purchase a pair of earth shoes, which I proudly wore to not one, but two showings of the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.  Like thousands of other suburban teen-agers, I pinned photos of Robert Redford as Jeremiah Johnson, on my bedroom wall, listened to the folksy anthems of Joan Baez, and dreamed of leaving the suburbs for John Denver's, Rocky Mountain High.  

Somewhere along the line however, the back-to-earth movement took a hard left turn, leaving me and countless others, in the middle of the road, where we exchanged our earth shoes for boat shoes and Candies.  Life went on.

So why, my renewed interest in a back-to-basics lifestyle?  In a word, observation.  My life experience has led me to conclude, that Americans have become too accustomed to, and too dependent upon, living with excess.  We have become a society of must-haves, as in, I must have a new car every two to four years, and I must have the latest and greatest home electronics equipment; I must have a particular, trendy brand of coffee each day, with my favorite non-dairy, low-fat, no-carb, sugar-free creamer, and I must have time for, and easy access to, my gym, work-out facility or day-spa.    

While living in Belgium in the mid-1990s, it was impossible to miss the cultural dichotomy between what would be considered European, and American living essentials.  Europeans, even those considered wealthy, simply live with less, and they appear to do so, happily.

Which brings me to the happiness quotient.  Most Americans are convinced, they cannot live happily, unless they are able to have the things that they want, when they want them.  Further more, to truly appreciate something, Americans need to have it complete with all the bells and whistles.  

What makes all of this relevant now, is the current state of our economy.  It does not appear as though, our nation's must-have culture, can sustain itself any longer.  Financial institutions are no longer lending easy-money for new cars, or bigger homes.  Money is tight, and Americans should learn now, how to make due with less, and try to find happiness outside of the mall and big-box-store.  

The question remains however, whether Americans will heed the advice of those advocating a return to a more simple lifestyle, and cutback or downsize voluntarily. Sadly, those young Americans willing to do so, will likely find that they are literally unable to sustain themselves, for America's prosperity and the resulting disposable society, has left us with a generation of people less able to care personally for themselves, and their belongings.  

In our zeal to raise our standard of living, we've managed to raise an entire generation of men and women who, though university educated, are unable to tighten a screw, repair a leak, rewire a lighting fixture, mow a lawn, till a garden, cook a meal, patch a torn knee, paint, pound a nail, or change the oil in the car.  In our prosperous, must-have society, those are things we pay to have done.  So what happens, when or if we no longer have money to throw around?

I guess that's when we turn to magazines and periodicals like the Mother Earth News, and Popular Mechanics.  As for me, I'll just go on with my canning and pickling, not because I'm trying to make a political statement, but because eating freshly preserved fruits and vegetables, that taste the way fruits and vegetables were intended to taste, makes me happy.  

And, if as a consequence, I am able to make fewer trips to the big-box-store, save money on gas and groceries, and become less dependent upon somebody else for my own survival, I'll be happy about that too!


  1. Loved this! It is so true. Most young people today come out of college or high school without an idea how to do the most simple of tasks. Nor do they have any desire how to learn. These same tasks that our great grandparents were able to do at 8 (or less) years old. But I believe that it does all start at home leaving it to parents today to turn this thing around!

  2. yep, I'm guilty of some of that but fighting against it all everyday! love that Mary Jane's Farm magazine- looked through that a few times before!

    good reminders and I cannot wait to taste some of these goodies you speak about!!