Four decades ago, Doris Janzen Longacre’s More with Less Cookbook (1976) and Living More with Less (1980) served as a transformational rallying cry for Mennonites to rethink the way we use the world’s resources by doing more with less. As we reflected on the theme of transformation related to the coronavirus pandemic, we found ourselves returning to the notions of doing more with less and discovering the more in less.
COVID-19 has, indeed, forced many of us to make do with less – less shopping, less going out to eat, less social interaction, less hanging out with friends, less frequent visits to coffee shops or movie theaters, fewer haircuts! The list of what has “lessened” goes on and on. While these restrictions have been felt around the world, for the past 5 months, we have experienced “the less” even more acutely as Germany has used various stages of lockdown as a major weapon in its battle against the pandemic.
I (Beth) arrived in Germany in early October. Three weeks into my stay – right after two weeks in quarantine and a one-week mini-vacation at the North Sea – Germany went into “lockdown light.” Stores were closed in the hope that shutting them at that moment would allow them to reopen for Christmas shopping by the end of November. Social distancing restrictions at restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs were ramped up, and contact information was collected to facilitate contact tracing. The world of entertainment (sports, movies, theatres, concerts, etc.) went from less to none. We began to make do with less. When November didn’t bring a significant drop in new COVID cases, the government decided to move into “hard lockdown,” pushing a giant PAUSE button on almost all public life. No Christmas shopping, movies, concerts, dining out with friends, and no Christmas markets (a hard one for Beth!). Only grocery stores and drug stores stayed open. Schools and daycares were closed, and more people were moved into home offices for their work. Travel was tightly restricted, and social contacts were limited to small gatherings of no more than two households. We had to make do with even less.
As this government-mandated living-with-less reinforced for us Janzen Longacre’s message from over 40 years ago, we also began discovering that the more in less can, indeed, be transformational. Less traveling actually helped us discover hidden gems in our immediate neighborhood. On our daily walks we “found” three independent bakeries we didn’t know about (with yummy pastries and breads), three churches new to us, a monastery’s secret garden, much interesting lawn “art,” and simply a renewed joy in walking. Less contact with friends and family in real space and time encouraged us to come up with creative ways to use virtual means to stay connected. Our Zoom game nights with one group of friends have become a fun and meaningful new staple in our social lives. We also rediscovered analog modes of connection—writing postcards, Christmas cards, and real birthday cards to friends is tactile fun for both sender and receiver. Less shopping and generally acquiring less stuff has been quite freeing—our newly uncluttered closets, cupboards, shelves, and living spaces seem to think so, too. Less mindless consumerism has also led to less waste and smaller waists. And since eating at home most of all means cooking at home, this brings us full circle back to our battered copy of the More With Less Cookbook, which figuratively and literally has helped us transform the less into more in these strange Corona times.