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Lessons I've Learned from the Amish

During the past five years my online log furniture store has bought literally truckloads of furniture built by Amish suppliers. One of the more interesting fringe benefits of my job as a log furniture retailer has been to become acquainted with the Amish way of life. While certainly not an expert on Amish life, I have learned some valuable lessons from my Amish friends:

Lesson #1: Drawing a line in the sand

The Amish commitment to a simple way of life certainly is admirable. Every belief system seems to have its “rules and regulations” that work out the details of how that belief system is applied to practical life, and the Amish are no exceptions.

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My main Amish furniture builder wouldn’t think of using electricity, but his entire log furniture building shop is powered by an air compressor. He won’t allow a phone in his building, but he has a pay phone outside. He rides a horse and would never consider driving a car, but he hoists log armoires and dressers around with a forklift truck. When I asked him about this, he said that was O.K. because the forklift truck was powered by propane. He wouldn’t touch my digital camera with a ten foot pole (I know, because I asked him to snap a picture of some log bunk beds for me), but he doesn’t mind me snapping pictures all over the place and even offered to pay me to take some for him.

While some people may find the above list of seeming contradictions to be somewhat less than admirable, I keep going back to the old saying “stand for something or you will fall for anything”. The Amish have a core value of simplicity, a value they believe in so deeply that they’re willing to take a stand. Although I live life differently than the Amish, I believe in the simple life too, and admire the soft-spoken kindness and unhurried manner I’ve seen in Amish craftsmen.

Lesson #2: Time isn’t Everything

The Amish log furniture builders I know certainly do know how to meet a deadline. If I have a rush order, they’ll bend over backwards to kick it out on time. They do this for a couple of reasons. Since I order a lot of rustic furniture from them, they want to keep me happy. Also, I don’t ask them to hurry very often.

I don’t ask them to hurry very often because one of their belief tenets is against a “rushed” way of life. If I asked them to do rush orders all the time, you can be sure they would bridle against it. By respecting their unhurried ways and limiting my rush orders to one or two per month, I am able to get my Amish suppliers to help me out when a customer is leaving their lake cottage in a week and we really need to deliver.

Although my Amish furniture builder has been willing to drop everything to help push out an order for me, it’s obvious that he is committed to an unhurried way of life. He wouldn’t think of working on Sunday, or even Good Friday, for that matter. The other day when I drove to his place to see about an order (you can’t call him, because he doesn’t answer the pay phone), he was just returning from a family canoe trip.

Lesson #3: Take Time to be Social

The Amish are big on auctions, and will close their businesses at the drop of a hat to go to one. Don’t count on finding them at work on the first day of hunting season, either. They even put that on their answering machine. “This is the first day of hunting season and we won’t be in!”

One day I drove for an hour to pick-up a van load of Amish furniture. When I got to my supplier’s, I learned I would have to wait for loading because the “hired man” wasn’t yet back from lunch. This seemed strange since it was 2:30 in the afternoon, and I couldn’t help saying so. The Amish furniture maker was quick to explain, with an amused little smile on his face, that the hired man had gotten married just two weeks earlier, and ever since then, had been taking long lunches—“very long lunches”.

The Amish supplier I do the most business with right now has four small children. They are amazingly quiet and well-behaved, although I can’t see any evidence that he is ever unkind to them. He speaks to them very gently, and they seem to love him very much—yet they are very obedient. This is particularly refreshing, given the challenging behavior that is exhibited by so many children today.

My great uncle, who was born in the early 1900’s, used to say that he never wanted to go back to the “good old days” because they really weren’t so good after all. He remembered a lot of outhouses and hard work.

I don’t envy my Amish supplier for having an outhouse, but do believe there is much we can learn from his simple way of life. People who drive buggies don’t usually have road rage. People who don’t watch TV or play video games have more time to cook, take canoe trips, enjoy long lunch hours with their beloved, and spend with their children. If you don’t have electricity, you generally go to bed when the sun goes down. Perhaps we, like the Amish, should slow down a bit—and “take time to smell the roses”.


About the Author:
Cari Haus sells log beds and other log furniture on her website,
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