I grew up in a household without a television. I’m glad I did. Mom and Dad put a lot of emphasis on family time, and they were careful regarding their stewardship of keeping our home free from profanity and bad influences. There was one particular TV show I was freely allowed to watch, however, with their full blessing. Every Monday night, you could find us visiting my sister, Sandi’s house, my eyes glued to her TV screen as Laura, Mary, Carrie, Pa, and Ma Ingalls carried me away to their little house on the prairie situated in a much simpler, more sensible time. To say I loved that show is such an understatement. I felt like the Ingalls family were my own very dear and close friends.
Fast forward to now. My family and I have been renting the Little House on the Prairie DVDs from our local library and cherishing our time binge-watching them together. Thankfully, I have forgotten most of the episodes, so it is like watching them for the first time. As I watch them gather around their kitchen table, listen to Pa play his fiddle, and see the girls climb into their loft bedroom to kneel and say their bedtime prayers, I continually feel a sense of deep loss and longing as I compare their uncomplicated, well-balanced life to the cluttered, chaotic world in which we now live.
I am so weary of the invasive domination of consumerism, the self-promotion of social media, and the modern demands we all feel we have no choice but to succumb to. Why do we feel that way? Have the basic human needs changed so much over the years? Is it still possible to live like the Ingalls family lived, or is it just nostalgic fantasy? I ponder these questions, and I realize that I wouldn’t want to give up electricity, a landline phone, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, or a car, but other than those five modern conveniences, there truly wouldn’t be much else I would miss.
Here are some lessons we can all learn from the Ingalls on how to live a simple life.
Get rid of everything unnecessary and unwanted. If you think of it, there was nothing in the Ingalls’ home that wasn’t being used or enjoyed. Remove the clutter. Just let it go. It may hurt at first, but only for a short time, then you won’t even miss it. The freedom and lightness that follows releasing the unnecessary is invigorating. If you don’t need, use, or want something, remove it from your life.
Reduce to a smaller living space. Now that you have only what you need, use, and want, it just makes sense to downsize your living quarters. One of the qualities of the Ingalls family that I admire the most is the closeness of their relationships. I love how Mary and Laura talked each night before going to sleep and how the small space necessitated family members be in the same room and look one another in the eye. Since my family and I sold our 4-bedroom home and moved into a much smaller space, we now have a combined kitchen, dining, and living room area. We spend most of our day in the same room together talking, homeschooling, cooking, eating, visiting, and cherishing one another’s company. I wouldn’t trade that togetherness for all the big houses in the world. Sometimes it still feels like we have too much space, and a 400 square foot Park Model RV is looking better to us all the time. Love really does grow best in small houses.
Turn off the noise. The Ingalls’ home was quiet, peaceful, and fostered the kind of atmosphere that naturally invites the pouring out of hearts, sharing of the day’s stories, reading, meditating, and listening. Pa and Ma always shared what was on their minds right before going to sleep, and they always knew what was going on in each other’s lives. What bothered one, concerned the other. Instead of keeping up with everyone else’s facebook feed, they fed their relationship by making each other a priority. Their marriage was strong and solid because they communicated everything and never allowed distance to exist.
When is the last time you turned off your phone, laptop, and TV and allowed the night sounds of crickets to lull you to sleep? Say no to online. Leave electronic devices outside your bedroom. Unplug and disengage from the artificial to nourish what is real and in front of you. Just because the whole world is absorbed in noise and social media doesn’t mean you have to indulge at all.
Genuinely love others. Pa and Ma Ingalls were never too busy to help a neighbor, visit the sick, lend a hand, or do a favor. There was this genuinely authentic quality in people back then that automatically rose to the occasion of another’s need without counting personal cost. They even reached out to those who didn’t necessarily agree with their religious or political views, simply because it was the right thing to do.
Avoid debt. Remember how Pa always hated owing the Oleson’s Mercantile and how he paid off those debts as soon as possible? He believed in buying only what he could afford and living within his means—wisdom we would all do well to follow.
There is so much about their life that calls to me. I am encouraged to discover that through the choices my family and I have been making since beginning our minimizing journey, we have unwittingly been reaching and edging closer to replicating that kind of life. Surprisingly, we are finding that the bridge between our life and theirs isn’t really all that wide across, after all.
About the Author: Cheryl Smith is the author of the book “Biblical Minimalism,” the story of her family’s journey from a life of abundance to a more abundant life. She is the author of the blogs Biblical Minimalism and Homespun Devotions.