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spring 2002

Imagine the luxuries of the twentieth century vanish. Automatic washing machines, microwaves and central heating disappear in an instant. Could you live without amenities such as the telephone, that we so casually take for granted? Telephones in every room and every shape, even cell phones you carry on your hip or in your purse. And phone lines for private use, modems -- even a separate one for the teenager in the group.

A microwave, the first purchase my husband and I made as a married couple, continues to ease my daily workload. I don't want to consider life without it. Same with my hot water heater, refrigerator, and washing machine. However, some household appliances definitely take up more space than I can justify.


by Karin Kuhlmann

Dishwashers I can do without. Before we had children, I enjoyed washing the dishes after work. I found it cathartic doing something mind-numbing, but essential. Now that I have children, I still can't justify forking over enough money to feed my family for two months to have a machine wash my dishes. After a long day at school, my children help me tidy the kitchen and wash the dishes. They tell me things in side by side conversations they'd never share point blank. They interact with each other, while feeling a needed and necessary part of our home.

My sister-in-law can't grasp how I cope with four children and no dishwasher. She doesn't see how I involved my children when their noses barely reached the counters, praising their efforts to "help Mommy" -- even though the mess they made meant more work for me. Toddlers consider splashing in a sink of soapy water the height of entertainment, and they don't realize most people consider washing dishes a chore.

After drying the aftermath of a week-long camping trip -- sleeping bags, jeans, and sweatshirts -- my dryer threw up an awful stench, blackened the wall around the electrical outlet and groaned to a halt. We hauled its carcass to the curb to await the garbage man. Family and friends told me to get a new one while they prodded my husband towards the appliance store, telling him I wouldn't be able to cope.

We decided only an energy efficient model would do as a replacement. Since we couldn't afford that, we agreed to try a year without a dryer. Thus began 12 months of laundry flapping in the summer breezes and dripping in the basement during rainy and winter weather.

We quickly discovered a hidden benefit of wet laundry in the house. Before our dryer's death, we ran vaporizers, trying to add moisture to the winter air to ease skin and breathing problems. Our doctor told us the average Canadian house is dryer than the Sahara desert. Using the furnace fan, the moisture dispersed through the house and eliminated our need for a vaporizer.

Our clothes aren't as soft as those dried in a dryer, and any dress shirts need to be ironed. I wash every second day to stay ahead of our need for clean clothes. But dryers can't duplicate that elusive smell of fresh air on clothes and bed sheets. The one-year experiment extended to two and we see no reason to invest in any dryer -- energy efficient or not.

Nothing more beautiful than a line full of clean sheets and a fresh mowed lawn. But, just as I don't want a dryer, I've discovered I can live without the expense of a lawnmower. Instead, we share one with a neighbor. Since my neighbor doesn't have kids, he stores our communal mower in his backyard shed. My shed, after all, clobbers me with a ski, skateboard, bicycle, or hockey stick every time I open the door. We contribute gas, a few batches of home baked cookies and friendship in the dead of winter. My older children mow our lawn and his -- when he lets them.

What other amenities don't we need? I vote to toss the television. But my kids outvote me on that one. No, not the microwave; it's this mother's little helper at mealtime. It's the difference between a hot supper after a day of kite flying vs. cold cereal. Definitely indispensable. Dishwashers, dryers, and lawnmowers aren't indispensable -- and we don't have to give up quality of life to live without them.

Bio: Julia Rosien earns a living as a freelance writer in southern Ontario. Her husband, four children, and two spoiled cats provide continual fodder for her essays and articles. Currently she teaches grade ten horticulture at a correctional facility for women and creative writing at a community college. Her work has appeared across Canada and the US in magazines such as The Christian Science Monitor, Whispers from Heaven, The Canada Lutheran, and Pregnancy.

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