Tag Archives: More-With-Less Cookbook

Putting “Stuff” in Its Place

I am feeling overwhelmed by “stuff” right now. Justin and I are in the process of moving: not very far – just to another apartment across the way – but it still requires boxing up and/or carrying all of our worldly possessions to another space. It hasn’t been that long since we moved. In fact, we did another similar small-scale move just last summer. But each time we do, I find myself in awe of the amount of stuff that we have accumulated over the course of the preceding years.

Each time we move, I diligently clean our drawers, purge our stocks of kitchen gadgets, recycle old documents and articles that have collected in stockpiles around the house, and bag up many little or never-worn outfits to take to our local thrift store. And each time we move, I swear that next time, we will learn our lesson. Next time, we will remember to throw things away, or not to take everything that’s offered to us simply because it is free or low-cost. Next time, I won’t feel the need to buy new furniture or storage gadgets to fit our new space, but I’ll work with what we have.

But somehow, these lessons often wear off quite quickly once we get settled in a new space. There’s always some household décor item or handy IKEA “storage solution” that seems to be of the utmost necessity for our new place.

And frankly, having a baby on the way seems to really exacerbate this situation. One of the most common questions that we get these days is, “Do you have everything that you need for when the baby arrives?” And this is a question that I’ve been asking myself a lot, too. When we set up our baby registries in stores and online, we were bombarded with images of all the things that our baby MUST HAVE in order to be a healthy and well-adjusted child. These included things like a crib, burp clothes, blankets, diapers and bottles. But the lists also included all sorts of crazy, code-worded products, probably meant to seduce young, suggestible, new parents-to-be like us with their cool features and mysterious allure. There were Bumbos, Boppys, Baby Bjorns, Ergo carriers, “Breast Friends,” highchairs, crib bumpers, cute nursery décor, and the list could go on….We’ve already been warned by several other new parents never to enter Babies-R-Us if we wish to maintain our sanity!

The infamous Bumbo

And don’t even get me started on the clothes. I mean seriously, have any of you seen the cute little shoes they sell for baby girls? That is one huge consumerist cuteness trap waiting to happen.

While I was feeling overwhelmed trying to sort through these lists of “needs,” one of my friends was kind enough to link me to the Alphamom blog, and her list of the essential items that your baby really might need. I was refreshed to read this post, which reminded me that really, in their first few months of life, all a baby really NEEDS are “1) boobs, 2) diapers, 3) a sling and 4) some jammies. If we were feeling fancy, anyway…”  

And as we’re moving, I’m reminded of this anecdote again. There are many people who have written about the “power of enough.” The famous Mennonite cookbook, More-with-Less, has already made more than one appearance on this blog, but as we’ve been moving, I’ve been thinking about the ways that this cookbook offers more than just advice for how to cook simple, flavorful meals, but it offers a great philosophy for thinking through how to approach life in general. You can always do more than you think you can with less. I don’t always need to feel the urge to buy something new, but rather, I can find creative ways to repurpose all of the many “things” that I already own.

There will always be better décor, a cooler kitchen gadget and another adorable pair of sandals for Baby H, and I’m sure that at some point in time, we will in fact purchase some of these things again. But as Mennonite Lynn Miller reminds us, in his book, The Power of Enough, contentment can come from “putting stuff in its place” and not letting our desires to consume control us.

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Mennonite Simple Living: Sewing and DIY

Kate Wentland

Guest post from…Kate Wentland is graduating from Fuller Theological Seminary this summer with two Masters Degrees in Theology and Intercultural Studies.  She sews some of her own clothes, and writes a vegetarian food blog.  This article was originally published in The SEMI, the student publication for Fuller Seminary.

You?  Mennonite?  I never would have guessed – you have short hair and wear cute clothes!”  Over the years, a few people have been surprised to find out that I’m Mennonite because I don’t wear black “plain-clothes” or a hair-covering.  Black long dresses aren’t part of my Mennonite experience because my Mennonite extended family has been living in California for four generations.  Only one of my great-grandmas wore “plain-clothes,” and one of my other great-grandmas wore red lipstick and short flapper dresses.  I only reference that clothing tradition when my friends beg me to wear more colors – I joke that my tendency to wear black and grey is my modern form of “plain-clothes.”

The Mennonite practice of wearing “plain-clothes” arose from a concrete commitment to live more simply and humbly in obedience to the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. When Jesus said to take no thought about what you wear, or eat and drink, he was not just forbidding obsessive attachment to material things, he was setting his followers free from competitive consumption, status marking clothing, showy abuse of hospitality, ostentatious preparations for the next banquet. So Mennonites followed simplicity as a basic way of life.  Today most Mennonites wear contemporary clothing, but many still attempt to live simply through their clothing and not dwell on their image.

The famous More-with-Less Cookbook from the Mennonite community was revolutionary in galvanizing people to eat “lower on the food chain” and cook more frugally.  The companion book Living More with Less taught other practical skills for living simply, including wearing clothes that are basic and functional, and owning fewer articles of clothing.  Many Mennonites attempt to practice simple living in order to use fewer of the earth’s resources and to live in freedom from the anxiety of consumerism.  In my mind, the new stereotype of Mennonite fashion tends to be thrift store clothes and cheap haircuts instead of black dresses and head coverings.  Both styles are no-nonsense and downplay personal image.

Those of us Mennonites who take a special interest in aesthetics find our own way to make sense of our tradition of plainness.  While I embrace the value of living simply and using fewer resources, I don’t think it’s necessary to eliminate beauty and good design.  Likewise, as a 15-year vegetarian, I seek to eat ethically and “lower on the food chain” without sacrificing the sensuality and pleasure of the table.

There is a growing DIY (do-it-yourself) culture these days, but because I’m a Mennonite, I think I combine this creative crafting trend with my own Mennonite tradition of simple living.  I make things by hand not only because they are cute, but also because I’m also saving money, and sometimes recycling materials.  I see myself as participating in the Mennonite simple living tradition, but in a relevant and contemporary way.

I wasn’t interested in sewing until one day in 2004 when my feisty 80-year-old friend Pearl showed me a book she had checked out of the library called The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.  Her eyes were electric as she flipped the pages to show me the bold quilts.  Most conventional quilters are afraid to quilt this way, with crooked lines and wild patterns that looked like modern art.  The quilts come from an isolated community in Alabama where the women had a made quilts out of necessity for lack of heating.  The quilts were made from recycled clothes – especially old work clothes – but the women in this isolated region developed a uniquely bold style over the decades that made something especially lovely from a utilitarian craft.

The Gee’s Bend quilts inspired both of us.  Pearl used some old scraps to make a minimalist quilt like one in the book, which was mostly light grey with orange accents.  I promptly signed up for quilting classes because I wanted the skills to make bold quilts like these.  I wanted to be as resourceful and creative as these women.

Although many quilters today buy expensive color-coordinated fabrics to make quilts, the quilting tradition arose out of frugality and resourcefulness of using fabrics from leftover scraps and recycled garments.  I admit that I have made quilts both ways.  I have made a few Japanese quilts using good fabric I bought at full-price, but I also made a quilt last year in which I recycled old clothes, including some of my clothes from childhood.

A few years after I started quilting, a friend taught me enough additional sewing skills that I could start making clothes for myself.  In the past 2 years I have sewn at least 15 blouses for myself, and countless purses and other small projects.  Sewing has become a way for me to save money on a tight grad-student budget, both in making garments for myself and gifts for others.  Once, in a Maria-von-Trapp-moment of resourcefulness, I cut up an old curtain to make a blouse.

I suspect that I’m also interested in sewing and making things by hand because I lived on a farm for part of my childhood.  We definitely weren’t rugged pioneers, but I indeed grew up learning the value of frugality.  Living on a farm also shaped me in a way that I don’t worship or prioritize convenience.  I truly see the value in putting effort into making something well.  Not only do I like making crafts; I also do quite a lot of cooking from scratch.

Today more people are crafting, so better, more fashionable sewing patterns are out there.  I’ve recently been using Japanese sewing patterns that have been translated into English because of popular demand here.  I love that there’s a modern movement of people making things, beyond the communities of traditional quilters.  Crafts are cuter and edgier now, compared to say, denim vests with quilted hearts and teddy bears.  I love that DIY is pushing crafting in new directions.

What the Mennonite simple living tradition can offer to the DIY movement is a commitment to being centered in frugality, re-purposing, and resourcefulness.  Crafting and making things – and indeed gourmet cooking from scratch – can so easily be connected to hedonism and image.  Instead, the simple living tradition can speak to the enjoyment of the small things and moments in life.  A spirituality of simplicity can take many forms.  Creating one’s one food or clothing can be a reminder of what is truly significant in life.

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