On our Canadian Road Trip we met so many people who inspired us and challenged us. The Emmaus Community was very welcoming during our short time in Victoria and we met Rob and his family there. A few months later, we saw their invite to go electricity-free for Advent:
“As our community moves into a year of simplicity, our family has decided to give up electricity for the holy season of Advent.
It’s already been rich – here’s the kid’s brainstorm of what uses electricity as we prepare.
We’ll be starting a bit early – old Celtic Advent was 40 days (to reflect Lent) – so we’re starting Sunday November 19th until December 25th…
Meagan and I will still have internet at work 🙂 – and we’re now stocking up on washing boards, sunlight handwashing soap, candelabras, a whistling tea kettle…
Fortunately our stove is gas (we’ll have to light with a match as the igniters are electric)…
Anyone want to join us in simplifying for Advent?”
Tory and I quickly ran through our life and what takes electricity and tried to decide if we could do it with them but between no fans or AC during Camille’s naptime when our little house heats up like an oven and no laundry for diapers we decided this was not the time. But I can see this challenge bringing richness for us someday in our future!
In the meantime, I wanted to know how their experiment went and what they learned. Here’s an abbreviated interview.
Okay so tell me a little about your process, what led you to this idea and what your family decided were the ground rules.
Our intentional Christian community, which takes vows of prayer, presence and simplicity is about to enter a deliberate year of simplicity.
Another couple in the community were planning a waste-free 2018 and we’re all seeking ways to live that out. The kids made a list of all the things that used electricity and we strategized how we could do this. That was fun and super educational. We had to buy about $100 in stuff to help us out (including solar powered Christmas tree lights). We bought lots of beeswax candles (wholesale). We started earlier, following the eastern Advent calendar (40 days) and turned the breakers off for everything on our floor. Our freezer was emptied out on the weeks leading up to the experiment. We transferred our ‘fridge’ to two coolers on the back porch – and bought about 1 ice block a week to keep them cool (we’re in Victoria, so winter isn’t cold enough most days to do that job). We boiled a big pot of water each morning for dishes and sponge bathing.
Ground rules: No hydro. We keep on heat (primarily oil but with electric fan – no choice since that heat works for 3 suites in our house). No hot water. Stove is gas so we can heat water there. The rest is an experiment to see how it goes.
We bought a whistling kettle, a washboard, a few solar lights, a couple led lights, etc.
What was the biggest joy and the biggest challenge?
Joys: many board games, more quiet, very little screen time (phones are charged at work but limited), more connected to the rhythm of creation and the sun, more reading together, the beauty of the candles, the darkness and quiet in the house really changes things.
Struggles: no showers; lots of sponge baths, very little recorded music (we do have a chargeable speaker / phone), getting work done was hard though, at the end, I think the work/life balance was better.
And we totally failed on the washer thing. More on that below.
When you take a lot of things out of your life – like everything that runs on electricity! – you’re likely to have extra space and time. Are there things you are intentionally adding into your life knowing you’ll have extra time? What have you been doing instead of the things you used to do using power?
Definitely more reading, more board games, more interactive toys like lego (during the day, at least).
We have to dinner cook way earlier. Which means coming home from school playground earlier – which wasn’t always popular.
I’d say we often just went to bed earlier… at least the adults. The kids always go to bed early.
Practically speaking, what have been the most noticeable day-to-day challenges?
Going out to community places more; especially the pool – about once a week for a shower. Or cafe’s.
Lack of light for reading, cooking and dishes.
Lack of dishwasher – doing dishes by hand. A blessing and a curse when we lead busy lives.
Less connection to outside world; little to no social media… which was a good thing, in my estimation!
I’ll admit we ate out too much. That’s hardly simplifying. There are lots of difficult nuances to this experiment…
What are some of the observations you’ve heard your kids make along the way?
We get them to take turns being a reporter and they journaled. Our son did a presentation to his class. They spoke of the lack of electrical buzz and hum. Quietness. They really seemed to enjoy it and never complained about it.
Whenever we checked in, they were into it.
Sometimes I think when we put artificial boundaries up, it’s shakes us out of our norms and causes us to notice things and carry a sense of gratefulness. Have you folks felt that?
Ya – there was gratitude for sure. I especially felt grateful for some of the times we got to have quality time together that might otherwise got sucked up in screens.
But, from me, also some sense of guilt – as I had some extensive traveling for work during that period; leaving the family at home – without a stove, with early meals to cook, and in darkness. etc.
But with that, gratitude for community, who checked in on us, did childcare (it was hard to invite a teen babysitter when the lights were all out!), made a couple meals, and invited us to their places now and then. There were offers to do laundry and have showers… But we resisted!
After Christmas, what parts of this experiment will you keep? What are you excited to get back with your electricity?
We’ve been talking about doing a weekly Sabbath practice where we turn out the lights. We’ll probably do this from Friday night to Saturday nights once the kids are back in school – which will be interesting because Saturdays are currently the only time we allow screen time on phones or computers… This may entail a shift in our family rhythm a bit… but I think it’s worth it – and brings us closer to the meaning of the Sabbath. We talked about Saturday to Sunday – but as clergy with a morning and evening worship on Sunday, we’re rarely home – so it wouldn’t have as much meaning as Friday to Saturday.
What advice would you give others who are curious about trying something like this for themselves?
Talk a lot beforehand. Talk about hopes. Talk about limitations. Explore the reasons ‘why’ – are they environmental, spiritual, social – some interrelation of all of these? Though the experiment sounds romantic, and, in the candle-light it is to a certain extent, it’s also really hard work. We eventually gave up on hand washing our clothes and used a shared washer in the basement. Something had to give. If you’re a busy person, set realistic expectations. For us, the laundry thing was just too much during Advent – even though we had bought hand soap and a scrub board as part of our ‘investment’…
We have never tried this so I don’t know what questions might be the most interesting. What other reflections do you want to share?
I think that embodying our beliefs in memorable ways is really important. I’m still not sure if this experiment was symbolic or whether is marks a subtle transformation in our family life; but, whatever the case, it’s been something we will never, ever forget – and I sense that, whether or not it’s a ‘power fast’ we’ll do something like this again to mark the holy seasons of our faith.