When I was a little girl, I devoured the Little House on the Prairie books. I was a prairie girl for Halloween. I went to Pioneer Camp* (which rocked). I wanted to be just like Laura Ingalls, living off the land and running barefoot through the prairie in the sunshine with my bonnet hanging down my back.
Just like traveling can teach you a brand new perspective upon returning home, so can imagined travel to another place and time. Today I share with you, the three greatest lessons I learned from the pioneers.
1. Maybe limitations aren’t all bad.
If you’ve ever read the Little House books, you’ll know that the Ingalls family went to the general store just once or twice a year. Ever since I was a kid, this concept has fascinated me. And now that I’m an adult with clutter problems? Even more fascinating.
What would it feel like if you only went to the General Store once or twice a year? How would you be different if the store-of-infinite-supply-of-everything-you-could-ever-want wasn’t right down the street?
How much shampoo would you use?
What would you do with the leftovers in your fridge?
Would you use a paper napkin, or a cloth one?
What would you do with that cardigan with the little hole on the elbow?
Remember Ma’s china shepherdess? Pa made a special shelf for it, and it had a place of honor in every home the family ever lived. How do you care for your most treasured possessions?
We don’t need to live within those same limitations, and thank goodness. (I’ll take my indoor plumbing over an outhouse any day, thankyouverymuch.) But maybe instead of accepting the current accepted reality that every object, product and possession you could ever dream of is within our reach and disposable . . . what would it look like if we didn’t take the things we had for granted, and acted a little more like our visits to the general store were few and far between?
2. When it comes to making things from scratch, try anything once.
At Pioneer Camp, we made butter. Which involves taking some heavy whipping cream, sealing it in a jar and shaking it. And shaking it. And shaking it. (Like a salt shaker, or like a polaroid picture, you choose. You’ll probably want to try both and switch off arms, too, because your muscles get very, very tired.)
Towards the end, it becomes very difficult to shake it, because before becoming butter, whipping cream becomes thick, viscous whipped cream. After you use every last ounce of muscle you have left shaking the hell out of that jar, THEN you get some butter.
After this experiment, I did not continue to make my butter from scratch. It is not cost effective, nor do I have the necessary muscle or butter churn to do the job right.
I do have a new perspective and appreciation of where butter comes from. (And how much better homemade buttermilk tastes compared to the stuff you buy in a carton.)
This same principle can be applied to all manner of things, and ever since I was a kid at Pioneer Camp, I’ve been interested in learning how things are made. Some of those things were so easy or the results so awesome that I kept making them myself, and still do to this day, like most of my household cleaning products, sugar scrub, ranch dressing and everything in my ebook.
Some things, on the other hand, I make just once, and keep buying the store-bought version with the tested proof that they are worth every penny I pay for the convenience of not being involved in the making process. Like puff pastry, for example. (My homemade attempt took for ever and did not puff enough. I will pay $3 in the freezer section any day of the week.)
For even more on this topic, check out this blog post, too.
3. There’s a special kind of bravery required to leave the familiar for a new frontier.
Imagine the courage it took to leave society and family to make a new life in the vast stretches of unknown prairie. To uproot your family and live in a place where you could only travel to a store twice a year, and beyond that, you’re on your own, kid. You’ve got dysentery? Sorry. You can rest for three days by the side of the road, but that’s about it. Hope nobody steals your spare axle.
The frontier I’m referring to for you and I is not the wild, wild West, of course. But we have our own uncharted waters that promise a chance at a better life.
I was reading this article recently, in which Scott Hanselman reminds us that “staying focused” hasn’t always been a challenge. To quote the post: “There hasn’t always been hundreds of pages of new content to consume daily or a constant stream of new information interrupting you.” Understatement. Add to that content to consume: ads popping out from every direction, Pinterest projects, Instagram selfies of everybody and their brother, tweets, updates, full inboxes, I’m going to stop because it’s exhausting me but you get it.
Let’s take this a step further and connect Hanselman’s idea with our physical stuff and our homes.
The things that we struggle with regarding our homes—clutter, toxins in our food and products, focusing on big projects and finding time in the day to fit “it all” in—haven’t always been the problem they are today. There haven’t always been big box stores in every town and disposable everything and and GMOs to worry about and endless information to consume at the touch of a button. In fact, I’d venture to proclaim that the current challenges facing the modern home maker are a new and wild frontier. Homemakers that came before us didn’t have to wade through the volume of garbage and useless fillers and harmful chemicals we are faced with. But with these challenges, there are some really great tools at our disposal, along with new opportunities and more choice in the way we live than ever before.
Navigating this new frontier will take courage, just like my dear pioneer friends had. Our survival skills in our modern frontier will include acknowledging that we can’t do all the things. We will thrive by identifing the things that need doing, that need having, and learning to let go of the rest. We need faith that there’s something good out there, and persistence to see it realized.
But we’re a rather courageous bunch, I think, and we’re doing rather well so far, don’t you?
There you have it! My three Pioneer Camp lessons.
Please tell me in the comments: did you go to any awesome summer camps when you were a kid? (Bonus points if you blow my mind with the life lessons you learned.)
* Yes, I realize that’s right on par with band camp. Or worse? But I’m not sorry. It was nerdy, but also extremely awesome. You can call that bonus lesson #4.
P.S. This post isn’t in my Love What You Have course, but it may as well have been. Registration is now open! To view an actual lesson from the course, click here. To learn more about the course or sign up, click here.