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!
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.
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