Little House lessons for a tiny house world

Little House lessons for a tiny house world

by andrewodom on June 10, 2011 · 9 comments


I am 6 ft. tall and weight just 250 lbs. I am no small boy. My shoulders are broad and my hands are shaped like catcher’s mitts. My legs are solid and strong. I have been stung by wasps, put fishing hooks through my skin, and stepped on rusty nails, all without nearly a wince. But like so many before me – Goliath, Achilles, etc – I have a weakness. Her name? Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her story? Little House on the Prairie.

I had never before watched the show when I met Crystal. I guess my sisters (bookenders in age) probably watched a show or two but it was never a thing in my house and because it began airing about the time I was born, I don’t remember it trumping Smurfs or Magnum P.I. But Crystal had watched plenty of the episodes and as she introduced me to the Ingalls episode by episode I became enthralled by their moral code, their commitment to family, their work ethic, and their perseverance. What I didn’t realize though is that so many of the shows episodes contained lessons and morals I would subconsciously bring to the Tiny r(E)volution.

The following is a list of things I garnered from the show that I find myself incorporating into our day-to-day life here at the r(E)volution.

1. Support the Community

Season 2 gave us the episode,The Pride of Walnut Grove (January 28, 1976), in which the town’s school board sponsors Mary’s trip to Minneapolis, where she is selected to compete in a statewide mathematics competition. Of course Pa Ingalls struggled with pride issues and didn’t initially want Mary to go. But Mr. Hanson and Ms. Beedle convince him that the trip would be an important opportunity for the community – “How often do we get a chance to see Walnut Grove in the paper?” Mr. Hanson asked.

Mary’s trip to the city was positioned as an important development and promotional opportunity for Walnut Grove. And the community pride displayed when Mary returns home with the second place prize helps define the culture of the pioneer town. Walnut Grove (home of the Ingalls) prided itself on perseverance, dedication, hard work, and community support – the very tenants many simple living folk try to hold on to. No one ever said that clearing land and building a tiny house, and paring down consumer possessions, and trying to live sustainably would be easy. No one said it would be the popular way to live. But when you have a community like we have found here on Farmers’ Almanac behind you, it sure does help balance the load.

2. Do what you have to do, and be proud of it.

I remember the episode entitled, The Richest Man in Walnut Grove (September 10, 1975 – Season 2), in which the Ingalls family ran up a debt at Oleson’s Mercantile. Charles was expecting a nice paycheck from the sawmill, but the money didn’t come in. To pay off his debt, he worked digging ditches. The kids at school made fun of Laura, because they said Charles smelled bad from working so hard. Charles told Laura that it was true. He did smell bad. But he was working to provide for his family, and that was something for which he should be proud.
Part of what is missing in our nation is a sense of responsibility, accountability, and pride. Not everyone can be white collar. Without factory workers there would be no computers. Without computers there would be no data entry and number crunching. Without number crunchers there would be no investors and brokers. Without brokers there would be no national finance. We each play a role; some more glamorous than others. As human beings we should always be proud of the effort we put into everything. That effort allows us to be contributing members of society; financially and ethically. Even if you’re washing cars on Saturdays to raise extra money, the effort is worthwhile and something to be proud of.

3. Don’t bank on money that you don’t have yet.

In that same episode a number of financial lessons were shared. If Charles wouldn’t have spent his paycheck before it was in his hands, he never would have been in debt to the Olesons in the first place.

Never spend what you don’t yet have. Credit is no friend of the r(E)volution. When we were married Crystal and I had a fair amount of consumer debt. Most of it was courtesy of my lifestyle choices prior to our marriage. I never thought about what I had in my account as much as I did how much I could finance. What was it Wimpy used to say? “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today?” That was me for some time. If I left this world having shared only one message it would be PAY CASH ON THE BARREL. CHARGE NOTHING.

4. Every little bit adds up.

What a beautiful message. Every little bit adds up. In this same episode (The Richest Man….) the Ingalls family was working to pay off their debt. They focused their efforts and put every last resource into paying their bill. Charles dug ditches. Mary quit school for a while to earn money by sewing. Laura did Mary’s chores, so Mary would have more time to work. Caroline did the farm work, so Charles could work multiple jobs. Everyone pitched in. They pooled their resources and worked together as a family until the debt was paid.

The goal may not always be about paying a financial debt. Sometimes the goal is about preparing a piece of land for a new family. But when everyone pitches in each little bit counts. Each stick picked up and discarded (read: burned) the lot is that much more clear. When each pile of leaves is raked up, the lot is that much more clear. When each nail is pounded, the house is that much more built. When a paintbrush is stroked up and then down, the wall is that much closer to being done.

5. Your whole family benefits.

And lastly, this episode showed that while the Ingalls family paid their debt at the Mercantile together as a family, there was a sense of family pride that showed on their faces. They had worked together. It wasn’t easy, but they got the job done. They had accomplished their goal.

When your family works together toward a goal – any goal – and succeeds, it builds family unity. The Tiny r(E)volution is about a restoration of family and community. It is about setting aside differences and working together to achieve a common goal. It is about instilling strong values in our children.

At the end of the episode, after seeing the proud looks on the Ingalls’ faces as they paid their bill, Nels Oleson took Charles aside and said, “I think you’re the richest man in Walnut Grove”. Charles replied, “I know I am.” Family and values are much more important than anything you can purchase or anything you can own. Wealth comes from character –  who you are and what you stand for.

BONUS: Understanding our limits.

One of my favorite episodes came from Season 3. Entitled FRED (November 29, 1976), the episode focuses on the relationship built between Laura and an adopted billy goat named Fred.

During the first night at the Ingalls farm, Fred eats the crop, so Charles tells Laura that she must get rid of the goat. However, trying to place the goat with either Mr. Edwards, Reverend Alden, Mrs. Olsen, or Doc Baker all result in very funny moments. When Laura finally finds a home for Fred, she realizes that he is better off with other goats in the wild, allowing him to set him free.

What I have noticed in the last 7 months of work is that we have to understand our limits and work within our boundaries. We can’t all be tiny house builders. We can’t all be homesteaders. We can’t all live with 33 items of clothing or less. We can’t all be master gardeners. We each have our own skillset and if we combine our skills with those of the people around us we end up with a higher level of collective proficiency.

Laura didn’t have the resources to care for Fred. Yes, she wanted him and she surely loved him. But she just could put that burden on her self or her family. She had to recognize that it was for the greater good to let Fred move on to someone who would take care of him as they knew how.

Did you watch Little House on the Prairie? If so, did you learn any lessons from it that have stuck with you? What were they? Was there another show that helped “show you the way?”

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