Life Without Electricity, Cars & Phone {How DO the Amish Do It?}

It’s remarkable to think that only one hundred year ago most people lived like the Amish do now – with no electricity, cars or telephone. Did you ever think about the fact that my Amish relatives didn’t appear so “quaint” back then? Things started to look a lot different between the Amish way of life and mainstream American culture in the early 1900’s, when the Amish people decided they would not join the power grid.

Spending time with my grandparents was an adventure, and I’d like to give you a peek into the way they lived without the things we feel are essential to everyday life!

The Amish and Technology

Photo Credit Julie Lea Waldron

There’s a secret I want you to know and it’s this: the Amish people are full of ingenuity, creativity and enterprise, and they are certainly not living in the dark ages. Spend a day with them and you’ll realize there’s nothing lacking in their lives. Many of them use things such as wind and solar technology to power their daily living.

The Amish & Minimalism

Photo Credit Julie Lea Waldron

If you were to make your way around the home of my Amish grandparents here are some of the things you’d see: (Note – there are many more advanced non-electric product options now available for most of these items, I’m just sharing the way I remember things at my Grussdaudy’s house.)

In the main living area was Grussmommy’s treadle sewing machine. These days there are much more advanced versions of non-electric sewing machines on the market for seamstresses! There were no light switches & fixtures, but instead gas lamps hanging from the ceiling, and glass kerosene lamps that were carried from room to room at night. We also used flashlights & battery-powered lanterns. There was no vacuum cleaner, but as their house had no carpet but only area rugs, a broom & dustpan, and good rug-shakings outside did the trick! My grandparents obviously had no TV, but instead entertained themselves and kept up to date with the news through books and newspapers.

“Simplicity is complex. It’s never simple to keep things simple. Simple solutions require the most advanced thinking.” ~ Richie Norton

My grandparents had a gas refrigerator in the kitchen. There was no microwave, so planning meals ahead of time was always important. My Grussmommy used a handheld egg beater instead of a Kitchen Aid, and a potato ricer when mashing potatoes. There was no blender to be found in her kitchen, but a lack of such things never prevented her from preparing delicious meals! When making breakfast, toast was made in the oven, not a toaster. As my Grandparent’s home was in the Northeast, they had a cold cellar which provided cool storage space for vegetables, cheese, eggs and canned goods. I think my cupboards which are filled with all the gadgets and small appliances found in most modern kitchens would benefit greatly from paring back & minimizing things – and I sure wish I has a cold cellar like hers.

“We go on multiplying our conveniences only to multiply ous cares. We increase our possessions only to the enlargement of our anxieties.” ~ Anna C. Brackett

When grandchildren came to visit, there were plenty of toys to play with. Lincoln Logs, building blocks, small farm animals and games like “Dutch Blitz” & “Uno”. There were coloring books & crayons, puzzles, storybooks, and (the favorite for all of us), the marble roller, which provided hours of entertainment.

My grandparents used an old-fashioned style push-reel lawnmower, and hand-held “trimmers” for all the edging. And in Grussdaudy’s wood shop were compressed air and a diesel engine to power his tools. My grandfather  had a “phone shanty” outside the wood shop, away from the house, used for business calls, occasional communication with family outside the area, and of course emergencies.  And of course there was the horse and buggy for transportation. Trips away from home were always intentional and needed. You can draw the obvious conclusion that this forces families to interact more than the average “modern” household.

As we live outside of Houston, there is much talk of preparedness every year during hurricane season . The year “Ike” hit, we were without power for over a week. I was amazed at all the survival skills I “inherited” from my grandparents, and was again reminded what a treasure it is to know how to run a household without the usual niceties. I’ve always been thankful for the way my Amish grandparents demonstrated the ability to not only survive without depending on the grid as most of us do, but (through their hard work and ingenuity) live well and thrive, in both their home and business. So just how did my Amish grandparents live without electricity, phones and cars? I would say they did just fine! As the matter of fact, at times I wish I’d have the courage to do things a little more like them.

~ Justina Dee

This is post 15 of a 31 day series I’m blogging about my Amish family. Click here to read more!

Interesting Links:

Lehman’s Online Amish Store

Huffington Post: Myths About the Amish, by Kraybill

A difference between how Amish & “Minimites” use technology

DayOStar – an Amish-owned lighting company

The Amish & Technology

Amish Enterprise

Off Grid News post on the Amish

The Iowa Source – “Sustainable Amish”

 

Joy In the Simple Things {31 Days of Lessons From My Amish Family}

Amish Garden Wash Line | LydiaGlick.com #31ThingsILearnedFromMyAmishFamily

Amish Garden Wash Line – Photo by Julia Lea Waldron

I call her Grussmommy. She was my paternal Grandmother – the gentlest soul I’ve ever known. The preeminent lesson she instilled in me was to take joy in the simple things of life.

The normal Western world in which I live has precious few women who would be content to live without the things like electricity, telephones and television which we call essentials. I can’t even imagine the typical American woman carefully making and caring for every piece of clothing they own, rarely going shopping or visiting a restaurant for dinner. And to do without the “finer” things in life – such as jewelry, cars, a night out to see a movie, a trip to Starbucks, a glass of wine or a well-deserved, relaxing vacation? Most of us would consider such simplicity a massive sacrifice on our part.

Amish Wagon by Julia Lea Waldron

Amish Wagon – Photo by Julia Lea Waldron

But for my Grandmother, not even one of these things was considered essential. She didn’t need the latest appliances, magazine, shoes, smart phone or destination trip to bring to bring fulfillment or pleasure into her life. Instead, she found immense joy in modest matters.

Amish Garden

Amish Garden – Photo by Julia Lea Waldron

She loved songbirds, and knew them all by name. Her face beamed with quiet happiness as she pointed out something as tiny as a sparrow, or identified the call of an owl. She cared tenderly for these little creatures in God’s creation. I remember one day when she cleaned the hair from her brush, carefully placed it outside near the bushes, and explained to me how the birds would come take it to use as material for their nests.

Amish Grandparents Walking, by Julia Lea Waldron

Amish Grandparents Walking – Photo by Julia Lea Waldron

My grandfather was a cabinetmaker, and his woodworking shop was next to the house. I remember the contented smile on Grussmommy’s face as she made fresh squeezed lemonade and peanut butter crackers (just the way Grussdaudy liked them), and we carried them down the little walkway to the shop for my hardworking grandfather’s mid-morning snack. Once when we visited their home, she baked brownies from a new recipe. She was so excited to share the goodness with her family you would have thought she was making the most delectable of desserts for the Queen of England herself.

She delighted in the beauty of God’s creation, especially flowers. She planted them on the borders of her vegetable garden every spring, where their abundant, fragrant and vivid blooms brought color and joy to all who passed by. Her favorite room of the house was the sun porch, which housed her collection of violets, succulents and a myriad of other plants. I remember sharing her wonder when the Christmas cactus bloomed in December, and she pointed out the delicate blossoms to her family as they gathered around.

The Simple Things | LydiaGlick.com

The Simple Things – Photo by Julia Lea Waldron

Laura Ingalls Wilder (author of the Little House books) once said “I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” I believe my grandmother was well aware of this truth, and demonstrated it not only on a daily basis, but in every moment of her life. And I’m deeply grateful for her beautiful example of joy in the simplest of pleasures.

~ Justina Dee

This post is the second of 31 posts in a series about the Amish people. You can find the others by clicking here: 31 Days of Amish.

Special thanks to street photographer Julia Lea Waldron for the beautiful images from Amish Country, in Lancaster County, PA.