Before our term started as Service Adventure leaders, my husband, Daniel Miller, had an idea. He called it "simplicity challenges," and envisioned a weekly exercise in which our household would draw a slip of paper from a jar and receive instructions for a challenge for the week. He and I both believe in living simply: the pursuit of social justice, conservation of resources, and modeling our own lives in a way that moves us toward a better, more sustainable, and more loving world.
We brainstormed some challenges and, when the time came, broached the idea with our participants. Some of them were a little hesitant at first, but they're a pretty happy, adaptable, willing-to-try-things sort of group, so they agreed.
We drew our first challenge during a house meeting several weeks ago, and we've been doing one every week since. We've had quite a few interesting experiences as a result – here's a glimpse into that aspect of our lives together.
Week 1: Save water by limiting shower time. We had to decide on some parameters for this one, and we came to the consensus that everyone was allotted 21 minutes of shower water for the week, to be used at any time. This works out to three-minute-long daily showers. For people like me who don't shower every day anyway, this wasn't a huge stretch, but I still challenged myself to pare down my time, and in the end I only used 16 minutes.
Week 2: Fast from a meal. This was probably my favorite challenge so far. For some of the girls, this was their first experience with fasting. So this was a good opportunity to embrace our abstinence from a meal to remember those who lack adequate food, and remind ourselves about the many things that sustain us other than food.
Week 3: Save your trash. We decided on a four-day stint for this one, and we each carried a plastic bag around to collect all the trash we produced. It was an interesting experiment, and it helped that we compost and recycle quite a bit, so as a household our trash output is fairly low. Still, the exercise provoked a few obvious attempts to avoid trash (like when someone left about eight Cheerios in the box rather than finishing them and having to save the bag).
Week 4: Save fuel by walking or biking instead of driving a vehicle. We talked for a while about how to do this one, since Franzi Klause drives the van to work every day, our church is about six miles from our house (and I had agreed to play violin in church that week), and we had Friday night plans in a neighboring town about a 30-minute drive away. Eventually, we decided that we would attempt to walk or bike any trip that was within one or two miles. This was pretty easy for all of us, since that's sort of the default approach we each take anyway. Anna, Sarah and Anali all bike about a mile and a half to work every day, and Daniel and I love to travel around town by bike whenever we're able. However, the challenge did result in one instance where the six of us walked somewhere we might have otherwise driven, so we'll call it a success.
Week 5: Save electricity by turning off lights after 9 p.m. Unlike some of the previous challenges, this one was met with enthusiasm right from the start. (I think it helps that our housemates usually go to bed around 9:30 on weeknights ...) So at 9 every night, we're sporting headlamps, flashlights, cell phones, and candles. It's nice, in a way.
After we complete a challenge, we've been putting the slip of paper back in the jar, so repeats are inevitable. (And, if I remember right, we only have a total of about eight or nine different challenges in the jar.) If you have an idea for a future challenge we could incorporate, I'd love to hear it!
Colorado Springs Service Adventure unit. Back row: Daniel Miller, Anali North Martin, and Sarah Balzer. Front row: Meg Smeltzer Miller, Anna Koehler, and Franzi Klause.