Is Amish life really so “simple”?
Reader Michele purchased an Amish home and converted it to “English”, a process which took about half a year to begin. She had this to say about “living Amish” in the meantime:
I don’t know why they are called “simple”…we lived just like Amish for 6 months before our contractor could start our construction. There isn’t one thing “simple” about being Amish. It’s a lot of hard work!
You don’t just turn on a spigot for hot water…you have to cut, stack, bring in the wood for the fire…Start the fire. Turn on the generator to run the air-compressor to fill the air tank to fill the water tank of the hot water heater. Wait for the water to heat via the fire (and while you’re doing that you can clean horse stalls, feed the chickens, gather eggs, sweep the porch and get 4 kids dressed for school)…THEN you can take a shower (I’m not kidding…that’s what it’s like!).
Cook breakfast for 16 people, do dishes, start cleaning. Imagine doing laundry for 16 people with our modern washer and dryers…NOW imagine doing it with an old wringer washer (don’t forget to add more wood to the water heater fire and air back up the air tank)!
I would think this is a mixed bag. For instance:
- I can think of examples where Amish life definitely seems simpler (clothing?).
- In other areas there are a lot of hoops to jump through, or at least it appears that way to an English person like myself (some technology).
- And some aspects of Amish life seem like they can be both more simple and more complicated (transportation, for one).
What do you think?
So very true!!
However they can do laundry for those 16 in oh about 2 hours other than removing it from the line! It is way more elbow grease but sometimes it seems that it would be the smarted way than doing laundry all day long for a household of 5.
I totally agree though simple in their lives is not equate able to simple in the English word. NOTHING is simple! There is no quick hot water, no quick warming in the microwave, no quick dry of things and especially their transportation they provide themselves (horse & buggy) is NOT quick either!
So that being said I agree with you..is their life really simple?
Is Amish life really so "simple"?
When I think of the Amish being s8mplke I think of them not having all the electronics or gagets that we do. I grew up without all that stuff and now that I have it now makes my life less simpler. They also don’t have all the ways and customs that we do either. I think people (us) make life more complicated than it needs to be. Think about your daily routine and compare it with the Amish. They don’t have TV..their entertainment is going outside or playing games together as a family, they don’t have cell phones they take with them everywhere, they don’t have dishwashers to do their dishes…we lived without them for centuries before. The things they have are a lot more simple than what we have. They are not concerned with every new product that comes out or every new fashion that comes around etc. So think about it! They do things the old fashioned way. Less is more which therefore makes for an easier life. Yes their life can be more laborous but that’s how they keep active and busy and they work together as a family. They are not all going their own separate ways each doing their own thing which breaks down the family!
We confuse simple with easy. Amish lifestyle may be simple, but there is little about it that is easy. Have a nice day.
Tom the back roads traveller
You said almost word for word what I was going to say.
I would just add...
…not easy for someone born and raised English. We’re generally thinking here of how we would fare in the same lifestyle. I don’t think the average Amish person slogs through their day thinking about how hard they’ve got it. That probably goes without saying though.
You took the words out of my mouth, simple is not always easy. New is not always improved.
I suppose this is why my grandmother used to refer to it as “wash day”; it literally took all day to do it. And she only had 8 people to wash for.
I don’t see much difference between the way the Amish around here live now and the way my grandparents lived 100 years ago. I wouldn’t call it simple. My mom (who is 99) had 8 brothers and sisters. There were gas lights in her house, she cooked on a wood stove and washed with a wringer washer. They lived in a city so they had running water inside the house. I remember the water being heated in a cast iron water tank standing high on ornate legs. My dad had 13 brothers and sisters but they lived on a farm and raised their own food. I don’t remember them having a washer at all. They had a big sink inside but the pump was outside. Dad delivered milk with a horse and wagon. My godfather delivered blocks of ice for people’s ice boxes.
Remove the romance of the words “simple” and “plain” and facing the reality of how the Anabaptist live; we should call it what it really is and that is “primitive” living.
For example, the Anabaptist choose to live in a primitive fashion. Some more primitive than others according to the rules of their particular group.
And remember not every group is the same. Some allow more modern, some allow even more than that. There are many divisions of Anabaptists/Primitive religions.
I like this point. I bet one of the commenters here would have something to say on this (he knows who he is 🙂 ).
This is more a word-nerd comment from my side, but speaking of the meanings and connotations of words, ‘simple’ and ‘plain’ do carry an element of romance, and it is interesting that the word you chose to use carries a largely but not completely negative connotation (primitive society, primitive thinking).
I tried to think of when we use primitive in a neutral or positive way, and the only thing I could think of is the noun ‘primitives’ in the sense of antique furniture 🙂
Another meaning for Primitive is Old Fashioned…not negative, just different…they don’t participate in modern life.
Even though I grew up in the 60s, we didn’t have the conveniences that are so prevalent today. We had a washer and dryer, but mother would hang the clothes outside to dry in the summer, and in the basement in the winter, because she was frugal and didn’t want to spend on electricity. We had one car, and my dad was gone with that all day. If mother needed to do an errand, several ladies in the neighborhood all went in one car, so they could all do their errand together. We had a B&W TV, but only three channels, and it was never turned on until after supper dishes were washed. I could go on and on. Yes, even though I am “English”, I feel I grew up in a simpler time and life than today.
Diane, you have described my life growing up in the 60’s as well. I could just picture our home in each thing you described. We had seven children in our family and my mom had a wringer washer in the basement and the clothes were hung in the backyard. We had a great life. No regrets what-so-ever! Thanks for taking me down memory lane!
I have lived off the grid with farm animals and found I had hours of time for writing and reading. A lot of things, like firewood and canning, are done all at once. I sewed my own clothes, gardened and wildgathered. I baked bread. Maybe it is my rural background, but I found the Plain life truly simpler than my life now in a city. Yet I still do my laundry by hand in washtubs. I don’t have a stove or a hot water heater. I don’t mind. I cook on a hot plate, use a solar hot water bag, and we ate putting in a rooftop garden. The simple life can be lived anywhere.
I have at times exhibited a knack for complicating life in multitudinous ways, but am clinging to at least two totems of “simplicity”–my “dumb” phone, and my non-ownership of a microwave. So two simple points for me? 😉
is amsh lifer simple
No definately not easier. One thing I do like about the Amish life is everyone is the same like their homes are built the same way, not trying to be better than their neighbours, their dress, don’t have to worry about putting on makeup, jewllery, In our world most people try to make their homes much nicer and bigger than their neighbours, better cars more expensive clothes. And if they can’t afford these things, then they are looked at in a different way.Not all but some .To me it is how you treat others that is important, no matter what their situation is.
Concerning wash day, the Amish who live this simple don’t bathe every day, more like once a week and on a Saturday evening. So a family of 16 means only 16 change of clothing, unless you have a baby in the house.
I think “simple” may refer more to the Amish being more in control of their daily schedules. For me, I answer to two different employment schedules plus the calendar of the public schools. A day completely at home working hard hanging out laundry and doing yard work, on my own schedule, is what I call simple. It must be hard for the Amish to have to accommodate the schedules of English employers, now that they are seeking more and more jobs away from home.
Structure and predictability?
Good thought Denise, I almost threw something like this into the original post.
My thought was more along the lines of “structure” with the work week being the work week, Saturday either a work or a “play” day with sales or other events, and Sunday always being Sunday (you know you’re not going shopping that day, or for some even doing much traveling, beyond visits). If you’re a farmer you have even a bit more set in your schedule, both daily (milking) and seasonal with planting, threshing, making hay coming at certain predictable times of the year.
English seem to be more disjointed about how we spend our time and I think we miss this predictability and plannability. Having a set schedule worked out, for me, frees up my energy to focus on tasks at hand, and is less draining than when I haven’t planned out what I’m going to do well.
Having said all that your point about Amish schedules becoming more entwined with the non-Amish world is a good one and probably leading to more complication and less predictability. And of course there are daytime and evening events during the week (school board meetings, singing practice, bees). The other complicating factor is bigger families, and as children get older and spend more of their lives outside the home, meshing multiple schedules.
I agree with a lot of what Denise said. Yes, many of the tasks take longer because of the lack of modern conveniences. But, if I understand correctly, for most Amish women, doing the household tasks IS their job. They aren’t out working 40 hours a week, and then trying to do the laundry, cook the meals, etc. on top of that. Being employed full time, I think, at least, that I would gladly trade my automatic washer and dishwasher, microwave, etc. for the freedom to be home during the day, answering to my own schedule, and taking more time for the chores – chores that are often shared with others in a blending of work and socializing. That does sound like a simpler and more gratifying life to me.
Simple not Easy
Amish life is not easy but simple. They do not have to buy a new micro, washer or hot water heater because it is out of date or broken. They have one day to wash, not everyday as my daughter does in order to keep up with all the clothes changes, towels, etc. They do not spend hours sitting watching TV getting fatter each year. And they do not have to pay $100 an hour plus parts to have their transportation repaired or make 300-400 dollar month car payments for the rest of their lives. And, no peer pressure to have the latest gadget or styles. I call that simple.
Amish life is simple...not necessarily easier
I somewhat agree with most of the posts here. Living an Amish lifestyle is in no means easier…but it is simpler. Amish put a lot into family and community as well as their faith. Without all the modern conveniences, they stay closer to their families and community. The parents eventually live is a dawdi haus which is attached to the main house, in which their son and his family live. They take care of each other…they do not shove their parents into nursing homes, they rally around their neighbors in times of hardship. They are born into this lifestyle and don’t know any other way. How can they miss what they never had. In some ways I would trade all the modern conveniences I have to have my family close to me instead of spread all over the country…to know that I have a community who would take care of me and my family in times of hardship. In many ways, the Amish are a very lucky people.
That is very nicely said, Dee. I was thinking of some of those things over Christmas. I have two good Amish friends who work at the local retirement community. (One is in grounds & maintenance, the other helps care for the residents.) Hearing them talk about the lonely residents and how Christmas is for them was very sad. There is a LOT to be said for strong family ties no matter what culture you live in! The Amish fellow who does outside work said it often takes him a lot longer to get his work done because the lonely residents living in ??? semi-assisted? cottages love to ask him in to chat or come out to talk with him, especially at this time of year. We spent Christmas Day at a large family gathering of four generations. I had to think of those whose family is far away or uninterested or who only have time for a quick stop…
I have to agree with those posted above that simpler does not necessarily mean easier. And frankly just because something is harder to do does not mean it is not a simpler lifestyle in the long run.
If to you it is simpler to simply turn on the faucet than to heat the water then I imagine living the Amish lifestyle is not for you. I personally like the idea of heating my water by other means than paying and fighting with the utility companies. I would prefer to live off grid and rely on my own ingenuity than to rely on a faceless utility company who has control over my life by means of my pocketbook, LOL.
We have an Amish house aslo and actually Kept the compressor for our water! It is not much trouble to start the engine to fill the pressure tank once a day and if the power ever goes out we still have water!
Simpler, harder, enjoyable...meaningful
I just returned last night from my 2-day Shipshewana, IN “tour”. The highlight, I felt, was a “Thresher” dinner (lunch) at the home of an Amish couple, Melvin & Leanna Yoder, who run “M & L Acres Homestyle Banquets” in Shipshe. Melvin was away on business in Missouri (driven there by a brother-in-law who is not Amish), and clearly, Leanna was missing him. She told us that the “tours” help keep her mind off his being away (worrying about his safety, etc., just like I did when my husband would travel when our kids were young). She had two tours previously this week, then ours, and one more on Sat. Her only child, Geneva (pregnant with her first child, due in July) and her elderly mother (my guess, in her 80’s or beyond) were her helpers along with one other young woman. All the food was home cooked/prepared. There were about 30 of us on the tour, and let me tell you, those bowls and platters were huge and HEAVY!I was amazed at the amount of food! (No wonder Leanna is so slim and fit!) I was seated just outside of the kitchen, so I got to see the constant blur of activity—but the dishes were all washed and put away before we finished dessert! Such teamwork, even by her elderly mother who walks with a cane, and has great sense of humor (threatening to use that cane for “motivation” should her daughter “slack off.”) That’s one small example of Amish life being simpler (no automatic dishwasher), yet still very efficient (I’d be cleaning up the kitchen and dishes for most of the next few hours, at the very least!)
Tasks shared with family & friends, making the burden on each individual a little lighter, also makes for a more enjoyable, meaningful, fulfilling life, in this “Englisher’s” opinion. It would seem to me that “harder is better” in this type of lifestyle.
Oh, and the leftovers often go to a neighbor who has cancer (and a family of her own to feed).
Leanna was an inspiration!
I recently did something “old fashioned” that I found highly inconvenient, but which also reminded how much we structure our lives around available technology.
What old fashioned thing did I do? I wrote a business letter and mailed it, with a check. Growing up, I remember my parents were very prepared for this: they had a desk drawer set up with paper and envelopes, return-address labels and stamps. And mailing it was as convenient as dropping it in the mailbox at the corner (or my dad could send it down a mail chute at his office).
Now, my life has gone almost entirely online. I pay all my bills electronically, hardly ever write a check, and take care of all my correspondence by email.
But yesterday for I had to send a brief letter and check the old fashioned way. I had paper already but had to scramble around to find a suitable envelope. Had to go to the post office to buy a stamp, but would have had to go there anyways to mail it — there’s no mailboxes anymore where I am. And of course, I’ll have to wait a couple of days until I can check if the other person received it.
Truth is, this all was easier back in the day: I would have had stamps, envelopes and everything at the ready, and there would have been a mailbox nearby to mail it.
Its not so much that older technology itself was so inconvenient, but rather, it is inconvenient to suddenly switch to a “lower” technology.
I’m sure when it’s called “simple” it pertains to the living style of the Amish vs the English.
We, the English deal with driving to work on busy highways, problems at our jobs with bosses and co-workers, peer pressure at school of our kids.
Taking kids to baseball, soccer games, etc.
We volunteer to coach our kids for sports, then get criticized.
Let’s face it, we are on the go constantly. We have to deal with a lot of stress. Not to mention we deal with killings, gangs, etc.
Our lives are so much more complicated.
I can’t wait to move to a rural area…
Eric, your comment of possibly clothing being simpler had me chuckling. If you think of the fact that even the amount of pintucks and pleats is mandated, and the colors must not vary more than allowed, even clothing isnt really simple. I think that Amish life is more regimented, and since the belief is that blessings come from work, it works well for them. They dont think of it in terms of being simpler or more primitive, etc. It is the way they know. They do embrace many things, at least those allowed within their district. My neighbors use solar power, use gas powered generators,etc. Their emphasis is on not becoming worldly, which includes tv, etc. But when I took my laptop to show them something, they were quite happy to use it. I think of amish as attempting to be unchanged, in order to be seperate from the world, but more and more, they are embracing new things.
Actually Lynn I think the restrictions on clothing support the point I had in mind–lessening the daily choice necessary just in getting dressed.
I am sure there is at least a marginal time savings in not trying to figure out how to match clothing or pick out the perfect outfit for occasion x, y or z (how much time do English people–male and female–spend deciding what to wear, shopping for the ideal “look”, etc).
That regimentation makes the actual choice of what to wear, whether you’re a man or woman, more narrow and thus simpler.
When I went to Catholic primary school (uniforms!), my biggest problem in the morning was finding a clean shirt, not deciding what I should wear that day 🙂
Yes, I see what you mean abt ease of choice. I was thinking in terms of being the wife who must meet all the requirements in sewing the clothing for her family. I dont think that the Amish see themselves as anything beyond plain. They think that we live in excess in many ways, and I agree. We have a far more disposable society than they do. And i do agree that simple doesnt equal easy.:)
I see what you mean Lynn. The sewing arts are beyond me but even a plain dress must have some intricacies.
I did not realize all that’s involved in the “simple” lifestyle of
many Amish until I became friends with several Swartz. and conservative Old Order Amish families. Several times, I’ve had the
opportunity to just “stay awhile” and observe life on a typical weekday with these families. One thing I’m still amazed at is the amount of activity that goes on. From the two-year old on up to the adults, everybody does something. On a recent visit to one family, the teenage daughter and two year old were churning butter, the mother was weaving a rug, the father was working in the sawmill, the two preteen girls were milking cows, and the three young boys were fixing a shovel and then went out to the garden to work. Even though it was a busy time, it was peaceful and orderly and all seemed content with what they were doing. I’m grateful for these opportunities to learn more about simplicity, and realize that most tourists who visit the Amish will not have such opportunities to gain this fuller understanding of the “simple life”.
I wonder if the word “simple” has perhaps changed in meaning a bit since it was first applied ( whenever that was! ) to the Amish. I’m wondering if maybe back then, the way the Amish lived was not too different from how others did ( before the industrialization of the U.S. ), but the Amish were seen as living a “simpler” life because they didn’t follow the trends of the times. Their clothes, buggies, homes, farms, worship, and other traits were much plainer — and therefore, simpler — than their Englisch neighbors’. Maybe this word “simple” is carried over from the 19th or early 20th century?
Certainly, I think a lot of aspects of Amish life ( generally ) are far more complex than many aspects of Englisch life, today. If an Englisch family runs out of, say, laundry detergent, someone usually gets in a car, drives to a store, then returns home.
If the same occurred in an Amish family, it would certainly be more time consuming — catching, grooming, harnessing, and hitching up a horse to a buggy/carriage, driving at horse-pace to a store that in rural areas, at least, is likely to be farther away; arriving at the store, the person would need to find a suitable hitching spot, safely tie the horse, blanket the horse if the weather called for it, go into the store and purchase what they needed, go back out to the horse and buggy, take the blanket off, check the harness, untie the horse’s lead rope from the hitching spot, hold onto the reins while getting back to the buggy — or, if the reins are already IN the buggy, hoping they can make it there before the horse decides to take off, then drive home, and once there, stop the horse, park the buggy, unhitch the horse, take the harness and bridle off the horse, release the horse into pasture or lead to a stall in the barn, blanket if necessary — oh, and don’t forget the grooming and checking the shoes and feet of the horse — then at some point feeding and watering the horse, and finally carrying the procured item from the store into the house.
So one sounds much simpler than the other. But in reality, in my opinion, I’d much rather deal with a horse — whether a balking horse or compliant one — than a car that runs out of gas or has that horrid little “check engine” light turn red. I think either could be seen as simpler — it just depends on who is doing the deciding.
I wish I knew the answer to the question you raise about “simple” first being applied to the Amish. Perhaps dating back to the time when the Amish/PA Dutch were beginning to be mythologized/romanticized in tandem with early tourism. Or perhaps well before that in Europe when their clothing/appearance already marked them as visually different.
Simple is in choices
I believe that what the Amish practice (what we call simple) is really about choices and control by others. Just think for a moment what can you due about rates of electric companies (and we all need it for all those electronics we have), gas and oil companies none of which they have to worry about. Sure their work is hard (they find a true meaning in relaxing)but they don’t have to go in debt to live up to the jones and have every new thing that comes along because they are suject to all the advertisements and pier pressure out there. Sure their choices are limited (Simple) but it does make life a little more manageable and somewhat less stressful. For my first 11 years I live in an home built in 1700 with no running water (well house) and no central heating (wood and coal). I did have electric, and I am none the worse for it. Sometimes I remember how much fun I had on the farm and how really simple my life was.
Simple is what you get used to. Complicated is what takes time to figure out how to make it simple.
People can make life more complicated or simpler by the choices made.
Choices are made by the values held.
In the non-Amish world, if you want a simpler lifestyle, you need to consciously make choices that will help your life be more straight forward, dedicating time to those pursuits that are most valuable to you. In our case, it meant not having the latest fashion or technology as soon as it came out the shoot — even though my husband worked in “the industry.” It meant limiting outside pursuits by our children so there was dedicated time available to the family. It meant deciding what “norms” presented to us we would pay attention to.
In some ways, I would say personal life could be more difficult for some in the Amish community, inasmuch as so much has been decided by the community and Ordnung. On the other hand, those who could be “put out” likely have found a way to make it “simple.”
Amish life is simple for complicated people.
This what people like me are thinking: Amish life is Simple because They live the REAL day, every day, doing jobs for their life and their family which are very big and not like of many English who do not nothing for many days and stay at home, on the couch to watch the TV, and not because is Sunday, but because they are alone and because the English society is too chaotic, too futile.
Have hard day in an Amish life, doing things for you and your family with the hard work of your back (i mean spine) is very satisfactory, and doing all of this whit celerity but not with the point of view of the English people like them ho work on assembly line in many fabrics.
Amish life is also Simple because they live much in contact with the nature and they respect it more than we English ( or Italian 😉 ).
I do not know if I explained my thoughts and I ask your pardon for my poor english.
You Are Missing the Whole Point
The Amish do not live this lifestyle because it is simple.
They follow this lifestyle to avoid “being yoked to the unbeliever”. In other words they believe that by accepting the “modern conveniences” they will be forced to stop following their, firmly held, religious beliefs.