Living simply is a wonderful ideal. Confession: I have read More with Less and Simply in Season front to back like a novel. I love the idea of using less so that others may have a little more. There is so much beauty to be found in the small, simple pleasure of life.
When we, the Costal Seeders, first moved to our communities we were told to buy what we needed but try to match the level of our communities’ standard of living. It would be our way of living simply and building connections and trust with our neighbours. Of course, we arrived already living at a much higher standard- gas stoves, toaster ovens to bake bread, a knife set, a mini-fridge and an entire two room house for only for one person. But the general idea remained- live simply, be with the community, use plastic chairs instead of a couch. We would learn from our communities and the way they lived.
When the first, and only so far, round of reparations arrived, there was a lot of uncertainly in Mampuján. We were afraid of increased violence, of small arms entering the community, of public drunkenness, of family breakdown and all of the other general nastiness that a sudden influx of money can bring to a community. Thankfully, most of this has been contained to only a very small segment of the population. We were also afraid that people would not “use the money well.” We wanted everyone to invest in saving accounts, small business opportunities and cattle.
Then the building boom started. It was almost impossible to transverse the community for the giant piles of gravel and cement blocking all of the streets as simple two room shacks were turned into Mampuján-style mansion. Carts arrived loaded up with new furniture, pots, pans, televisions and fridges daily. For the next two months, I went on house tours almost every day as people guided me through their new bathrooms, kitchens and tiled porches. Here’s an article with more photos about the changes.
I was a little bit shocked- what happened to living simply? Didn’t people recognize the need to save, save, save? After all, they had “lived simply” for twelve years and they were fine. However, it was not living simply, but simply trying to live. It wasn’t a choice, but a forced circumstance. And, as I experienced when I first arrived, people can live with joy, dignity and generosity in the midst of not very nice conditions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want change. We must be careful not to glorify poverty or judge people’s choices too harshly under the rubric of living simply.
I know, because I have my own story involving the beauty of a tiled floor. I lived for over a year with a dirty cement floor and I was fine. Sure, it was grey and everything was dusty all the time. But I got by and was happy. Then, my landlord decided to tile the floor of my house and everything changed! Daily life is better now that I can put my backpack on the floor and not worry about it getting instantly filthy. I dance more when I can actually wash the floor and not have muddy puddles everywhere and be barefoot in my own kitchen. When my house feels less like a concrete box and more like a light-filled home, I am generally happier and more productive.
So, I don’t begrudge people their new houses. Instead, I rejoice that couples don’t need to sleep in the same room as their grandchildren anymore. I am glad that women have more free time because cooking and cleaning are generally easier with their new homes. I do think we need to be careful of excess, consumerism and materialism, but we also need to be wary of imposing standards that don’t actually match the reality of the community. I am glad that I chose to live in a simpler way here, but I also recognize that I was able to make that choice and that having the ability to choose might make all the difference. Mampuján didn’t make an intentional choice to live in poverty and I am glad that they can now make choices concerning how they live. And I continue to learn from them about the joy in being able to buy gits for each other, to bless someone with a new fridge, and the truly life changing impact a tile floor can bring.