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Modern-day lessons from a covered wagon

Should we make a run for the storm shelter?!” The 80mph gusts of wind shook our covered wagons like ragdolls.

How I wished our family of five had all fit in one wagon! As it was, I frantically texted my husband while the storm raged outside.

With every crash of thunder my daughters squished closer, and I did my best Maria von Trapp impression while checking the horizon for tornadoes.

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”

To run or not to run?

“Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens…”

CRASH! Squash. Text husband. Softly whimper-sing.

“These are a few of my favorite things…”

My family spent four days camping in two covered wagons (we didn’t fit in one) on the Ingalls Family Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota, where much of the Little House on the Prairie book series was set.

(Listen to the Simple Show episode where I chat with Tsh about this trip.)

On our second night there, a huge storm swept through town and prompted my whimper-singing, texting, and tornado watching.

It was pretty scary. We ended up running to the storm shelter (and met some really nice folks there) until things calmed down.

It was definitely an experience none of us will forget.

In the midst of it, though, I remember having this crazy thought: I wish we didn’t have a storm shelter.

Insane, I know. But somehow having the OPTION of going stressed me out almost as much as the storm.

Should we go to the storm shelter now? How about now? …Now? With all the lightning is it more dangerous in there (the shelter was the shower area) with the wet floors? Was that the sound of a tornado? If it was, then we should head for the shelter. If it wasn’t, I’m overreacting and stressing my kids out. Is it more dangerous to make the kids run through the storm to the shelter than to ride it out here?

I didn’t want to overreact (“I come from a long line of overreactors” – name that movie), but at the same time, I wanted to be wise and safe.

If we hadn’t had the option, I could have just focused on my praying, whimper-singing, and frantic texting.

I’m incredibly thankful we had a storm shelter to run to, but the whole experience reminded me how much stress is added simply by adding an option.


Options. We are inundated by them.

Did you know that the average adult in today’s society makes about 35,000 decisions every single day?

35,000. I’m exhausted just thinking about that.

Did you know that, according to Google’s Eric Schmidt, humans create as much information every two days as mankind created from the dawn of civilization until 2003?

With an endless number of websites to read, an entire aisle of toothpaste varieties, 10 different kinds of milk, eggs that can be free-range, cage-free or yolk free, and 300-400 television channels to choose from, we can be stressed and overwhelmed before we even hit Starbucks for our morning coffee (with over 80,000 different drink combination choices).

It’s wonderful to have choices and the power to choose, but sometimes we have too much of a good thing.

It almost makes me want to hightail it back to the prairie.

2015-06-21 19.46.46

Our family had SO much fun camping those four days. We weren’t stressed about which outfit to wear (we didn’t bring much), what to eat (my campfire cooking skills are…limited) or what to do (there was no wifi or tv).

We didn’t have a lot of options, so it was easy to focus on the most important things: each other.

Back here in the real world, the important things get drowned out in all the noise. So what can we do to reduce the stress of all our choices?

1. Develop habits.

Habits bypass the decision-making process. If you’re a regular Tom’s toothpaste person, shopping for toothpaste probably won’t stress you out. But if you don’t have a habit—a routine—in place, you can face analysis paralysis.

2. Use checklists.

I love using lists—lists for myself, for my kids’ chores, for work, and anything else I do regularly. I have menu plan lists that I create once, then reuse over and over. My morning routine allows me to start my day peacefully. Caroline Ingalls even had a daily chore list so she didn’t have to decide what to work on each day.

3. Do your homework.

Before our long drive to South Dakota, I spent a little time researching my best healthy food options at fast food restaurants. This saved me SO much time and stress in the heat of ordering for five hungry people. I had a good idea of what to get, no matter where we went.

4. Choose simplicity over perfection.

When we try to do things the best, cheapest, fastest way possible, we analyze ourselves to death. Recognize the value of a peaceful decision over a perfect one.

Options don’t have to be the death of us in the modern world. We just have to use them to our advantage.

p.s. – On decision fatigue, and why it’s a real thing.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Bethann

    Thanks for sharing your dilemma…I totally get where you’re coming from with the issue of choices…I tend to feel overwhelmed too at times. I appreciate your 4 points…I use the same strategies as well to reduce stress as well and if my anxiety increases, it’s usually because I’m not in my habit/routine, etc.
    And, bonus…I did not know you could visit and sleep in a covered wagon on the Ingalls homestead?!!! How much fun for your family (minus the 80 hour winds!). I’ve got to check it out!!

  2. Jennifer

    Great post, Kat. What a great adventure!

    “I come from a long line of over-reactors.” From Father of the Bride, right?

  3. Kariane

    I think you’re right: more choices often means more stress. I think that, for the most part, less is more. I’m working hard to simplify our lives so we can focus our time, energy, and resources on the people and things we truly love. I’m writing about my efforts every week here:

  4. Kim

    Being a chronic perfectionist married to an over analyzer I just love what you said there at the end…peaceful decisions over perfect decisions. I may just try that on as my new mantra and see how it fits.

  5. Corey Miedwig

    Great post! And Great movie: Father of the Bride!

    • Lori

      Yes! One of my all time favorite movie quotes.

  6. Jessica

    Wow. Great post. I am often paralyzed trying to make a perfect decision instead of a peaceful one. Thank you!!

  7. Missy Robinson

    I love the idea to value peace/simplicity over perfect! Thank you!

  8. Guest

    Great post! Interesting because I feel this way every spring. When we moved to the south, my husband (not a southerner) realized that tornadoes are a huge fear for him. We paid thousands of dollars to have a storm shelter put in and something that used to cause minimal anxiety for me is now a major source of anxiety. Our kids are little so trying to decide whether or not to wake up the baby and toddler to go to the shelter (for me) became far more stressful than riding it out like we did when I was a kid. Of course if it ultimately saves our lives one day I’ll be thrilled we have it but for now it’s been a complication I would have preferred to do without. And you’re right…there are so many other examples of this.

  9. Rachel

    I had the same dilemma during that storm: wake up the kids and huddle in the basement or wait it out a little longer? It is strange that I am still not used to the crazy winds here. We were blessed to have missed (by about 8 miles) the hundred mph winds that smashed up and closed down a neighboring town.
    As always though, in the midst of the danger, one decision is easy: what do I save? There is no speculation once the first decision is made. Kids, and after that pets. If we can answer the first dilemma, it’s simple sailing.

  10. Linda Sand

    When we lived in a motorhome we once chose a park because it had an official storm shelter. Just knowing it was there helped calm me. If our winds had become that strong we would have run for it. We spent one night in 70 mph winds and we got no sleep that night so 80 mph would have had me running for it.

  11. Kanae

    I love the phrase “Choose simplicity over perfection”!
    I’m a perfectionist and no wonder I feel overwhelmed so often.
    Thank you for the great message, Kat!

  12. Brenda Cupryna

    having just spent 5 weeks cycle camping, where you only have what you can carry, I know exactly where you are coming from. I need to simplify my home and declutter but then we have to decide what to dispose of. Decisions, decisions.

  13. Beth

    Great post! Although I did get a little sidetracked by the illustration :). As a child I spent a very similar night in my grandparents motor home – which was parked in the middle of a trailer park. There was no place to go. I can’t say that was less stressful for anyone – I can count on three fingers the times I’ve seen my grandpa scared and that was one of them. The next day we drove down a nearby road where the tops of the trees had been twisted off like toothpicks. A funnel cloud had been through and did some serious damage. All that to say, keep an eye on your kids next time you have a storm. I spent the rest of my childhood with a near phobia of storms and especially wind/tornadoes. A cloudy day with a strong breeze would make me nervous. I’m a lot better now but I still keep a close eye on the sky if the weather turns bad :). So you may want to see if your kids have any recurring fears you should help them through.

  14. Jennifer

    Our family camped right there in June 2011 in an RV, on one of the RV spots on top of the hill. We also had a MASSIVE storm roll through on our second night there, and that storm shelter was very much on our minds! My husband kept setting his alarm throughout the night to check the weather radar so we could decide if we needed to abandon the RV and run for the storm shelter. We never did, but that RV rattled and shook all night long – such a wild experience, and now fond memories! We absolutely LOVED our time in DeSmet – hope you did too.

  15. Shelley Hopkins

    I remember reading the Little House books and being jealous of the simple structured and yet free life of the family. Ma’s chore list, freedom to run and play outside after the chores were done, resting in the evenings listening to Pa’s fiddle, their life seems ideal at first. I am thankful for the modern life of health care, thinking about both Mary, and our own tiny health issues that are tiny because of the time we live in.
    My family also camped in Texas when a tornado came through, very exciting and scary. Camping is the perfect vacation for reminding us of what is important in our lives. I really like your list, and when I find myself jealous of a lifestyle I try to see what that feeling is telling me. Usually it is saying to slow down and focus on the important. Great post!

  16. Robyn

    Late, but I want to address two questions that dovetail.

    I do develop habits. While not fully a Colgate person, I have a few toothpastes I will use. Likely one will be on sale and I will get three tubes.
    But I did my research to get my “acceptable list.”

    I find I can over research and go back into the Tyrrany of Choice. So I need a cut off. (A chore list itself, perhaps? Can I tie all the questions together?)

    Accepting the perfectly adequate makes my life simpler. And I settle for simpler with a few funny challenges.
    I don’t use a dryer, my sheets often drape over two indoor racks. I can live with that.
    I make simpler meals, with a surprise twist.

    And I live the life I have 95 percent of the time.
    Sure, I keep my parka because I will move back to where I’ll need it four months out of the year, rather than four days. But I love that technical gear, purple parka that fits two bulky sweaters underneath. But I only have one. My other three jackets are in heavy rotation. (Fall weight, fall/winter weight and rainproof)

    I do have a few select pieces of holiday decor, a menorah, glass pomegranates, an apple themed honey jar, a decorative Seder plate. I have the same kitchen towels for all three holidays, however. And one Shabbat and Yom Tov (holiday) tablecloth. No special napkins. I have blue and paprika red. They work.

    My partner has ornaments and lights for his tree. Buying a cut tree over storing a plastic one has many benefits to us, from aesthetics to ecology.
    I store three rolls of wrapping paper. One is not winter, two are snow patterns. It’s all I need. After these run out, I’m going for two solid colors.

    Where I do feel overwhelmed is the homework. I left journalism for bodywork about five years ago, but the need, drive, addiction to knowing everything hasn’t diminished. So I inflict this on my own product/activity/concept research.
    Therefore, I have yet to conquer my Floordrobe (that pile of clothes that are technically airing, but need to get put back) with a consistent solution in my small space. I get something that I’ll implement for a few days, but something will gum up the works, and back to the pile it goes.
    I’m testing some hooks over the door to see if a nice (attractive) row of hooks will work. It looks more hopeful than other options.

  17. Rebecca

    Love this!

  18. Kimberly Harrison

    The Ingalls Homestead is literally my favorite place on Earth. I am actually headed there from Florida right now. You’re right, South Dakota storms ARE scary, but I’m glad y’all had a good time!

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