Towards Simplicity as a Freshman at Guilford

During my freshman year, I made more changes in lifestyle than I have ever made before. I was expecting a big shift in my life when my parents decided to move from Oklahoma to New York and I headed off to college in the fall. I knew being away from my family for the first time and the new environment at college would force me to be more independent. However, my biggest transformation was redefining my Quaker testimony of simplicity. My experiences at Guilford that year made me much more aware of how my lifestyle affects the environment, others, and myself. This awareness changed my goals and attitude about life.

When I arrived at Guilford a year ago last fall, I was very interested in discovering more about my lifestyle. Since I am Quaker, I have dwelt on the testimony of simplicity many times before. I have been concerned with the effects of my lifestyle, but I never felt "moved" to make any big changes; breaking away from social norms seemed scary and difficult. In the past I felt that the simplicity of my life was conveyed through my value of others’ happiness and my relationship with the Holy Spirit. My freshman year has offered me the opportunity to reexamine my values and find out who I am.

Before coming to college, I had never thought twice about what my goals in life were. I felt I really did not have an option. I needed to come to college and get a good education so I could have a "successful" career. I needed a good job so I could afford "important" possessions like a big house, fancy car, and cable television. As long as I still valued my faith and did not own too many possessions, I would still be fulfilling my testimony of simplicity. I was following a path that had been shaped by my parents, society, and everything around me. I needed to find my own path to follow.

In the fall, I enrolled in Max Carter’s First Year Experience course entitled "Plain People." This class provided a close-knit community in which I explored issues surrounding simplicity in our culture and in other cultures. I participated in discussions, readings, and field trips, and many of these activities revealed deeper messages for me. I realized early in the semester that the Spirit was leading me towards simplification. I realized that the path I needed to take was different from the lifestyle I was living. I became much more aware of what I needed to do, and I slowly began to make changes.

One of my first major changes had to do with my diet. I read a detailed article about how animals are treated in corporate animal industries, and I felt led to become vegan, giving up all store-bought meats and dairy products. I had tried to be a vegetarian in high school, but I did not feel as strongly about it, and I could not give up meat. After several weeks of eating more fruits and vegetables, I actually felt much healthier. I began to value my body as an amazing creation that I should give better care to. Gradually I gave up carbonated beverages, caffeine, and partially hydrogenated oils, as well.

During that year, I visited several communities where people live very simple lifestyles. I was confused when I visited one Amish family who chose to live without many machines that I thought simplified daily life. I wondered, "Wouldn’t it be more complicated to give up electricity and make everything from scratch?" However, I saw how much was gained by giving up many "conveniences." The Amish lifestyle led to a deep appreciation for many aspects of life that I took for granted. I experienced a wonderful sense of community while cutting firewood with the Amish family. Chopping wood for my fire may have been more difficult than turning on the furnace, but there was something simple and satisfying about accomplishing this task. I realized that simplicity is not the opposite of complication.

After studying the Amish, I was inspired to try to "do things the hard way."Over my fall break I asked my mom to teach me how to knit and I made myself a scarf. During Thanksgiving break, my grandmother taught me how to crochet. I put a lot of work into making myself a hat and scarf, and when I wear them, I am very appreciative. I value my other clothing more too, and I have been mending holes in socks or shirts rather than buying new clothes. I also have decided to cook and bake bread from scratch. Taking part in my own food preparation also increases my gratitude during meals. I have been washing and reusing items that I would have previously thrown away, such as plastic silverware and containers. I also got rid of my tissue box and got some old handkerchiefs to use instead. I try to walk places rather than take a car. Taking time to complete more difficult tasks prevents me from taking our modern conveniences for granted. I know that I no longer expect everything to be easy, and I can see what blessings difficult tasks can be.

I also began to think more carefully about time and sincerity. I realized that I valued "being busy." The first thing I would tell people in daily conversations was how busy I was and what I had been doing to fill my time. I felt uncomfortable when silence occurred in conversations, and I tried to fill it with questions or stories that were not really important to me. I knew that I valued other people more than anything, and it was frustrating to realize that my mannerisms seemed to say that I valued my "busy" life more than them. Several months ago, I decided not to wear a wristwatch. I wanted to stop focusing on the passage of time and begin to enjoy time instead. So far, I have not been late to anything. I feel less pressured, and it is easier to stop and really communicate with people. When I do feel busy, I turn the ringer of my phone off, so I do not have to tell anyone I am too busy to talk. When I talk to people, I try to focus less on what I need to do and more on what they need from me.

In the second semester of my freshman year, I designed my own independent study course called "Sustainability." I became much more aware of the state of the environment and how my lifestyle affects the world around me. I learned that people on Earth will have to become more sustainable as we use up more and more resources than are replaced by nature. My path towards simplicity has led me to become more sustainable and environmentally conscious. I spent my spring break living on a sustainable organic farm in Ohio, where I lived with a group of people who conveyed their values through everything they did. This experience reminded me of how John Woolman was careful about how his values were incorporated into his lifestyle.

As I look for ways to share my discoveries with my friends at Guilford, I realize that I could teach others by living my values more clearly. I am excited that I can incorporate my spiritual growth into my classes at Guilford. This fall I plan to continue to explore simplicity in my own life and at Guilford.

If I had to sum up everything I have learned this year into one word, the word would be "awareness."

Guilford has provided me with the environment I needed to learn about myself, and my simplicity is the result of focusing more carefully on my leadings. I have just begun to explore a new path, and I know that I will make many more changes as I grow older. Now I feel as if my values are more clearly reflected in my lifestyle, and I am closer to the Spirit. I am much more aware of life, and I am enjoying it more than ever before.

Elizabeth Baltaro

Elizabeth Baltaro, now a junior at Guilford, is a member of Oklahoma City (Okla.) Meeting, and attends Friendship Meeting in Greensboro, N.C. This article first appeared in Guilford College's Friends Center Newsletter, Summer 2000.