Living with less: What can you ditch?

“I’ve learned that other things will work!”

I remember talking with a nurse on a medical mission down in Honduras many years ago. The medical team had come to my village for a couple weeks to provide medical care for local people – many times surgeries that weren’t performed by Honduran doctors.

operating roomI had the opportunity to translate in the operating room – for doctors working with a Honduran team and nurses working with Honduran doctors. While it was all pretty overwhelming for me as I saw doctors cut into people and saw bones and all that, I assumed it was pretty much par for the course for those used to being in the operating room.

But I guess it wasn’t for the Americans.

The evening before the team flew back home, we spent the evening at a local restaurant and the team members talked about what they had learned during those two weeks. The most common lesson they learned was that other things work.

Apparently, things are pretty precise in operating rooms in the USA. There are many different sizes of needles and thread for stitches and specific scalpels and there is a particular item for each and every task. It’s imperative that the nurse hand the exact size of the item to the doctor. In Honduras there was only one.

“I learned that most times I can hand the doctor something other than what he asked for and it’ll work!” one nurse mused. “I was pretty surprised at that.”

I think attitude is the key for living with less. Just as those nurses learned that they could improvise and use other items in the operating room, so can we improvise at home.

Do you really need a dedicated food processor or can you make do with a blender and hand grater? Do you need specialized pans for every type of cooking you want to do or can you get a few generic pots and pans and call it good? In short, what items can do double duty?

Before we left on our journey we had a full house full of creature comforts. I had a fully stocked kitchen and quite a few rooms full of furniture. Now, we’re making do with less and honestly, I don’t miss most of that stuff.

If you’re thinking you’d like to live with less but aren’t sure where to start, here are some items that are easy to live without:

pots and pansPots and pans: Really, how many do you use? I now have a big and small frying pan, a big pressure cooker, and a small sauce pan. Sometimes I end up cooking veggies in the frying pan if I’ve got rice in the sauce pan, but it works. I feel like this is a major luxury after living with only one pot for so long.

Baking equipment: I am amazed when I think about all the baking stuff I had before we left. I had cake pans in three different sizes and shapes, cookie sheets, pie tins, and I’m not even sure what else. Now I have a large cake pan that doubles as a cookie sheet. OK – a pie pan would be nice if I decide I want to make a pie, but most of that specialized baking stuff is totally frivolous.

Kitchen gadgets: I used to have a whole cupboard dedicated to storage of gadgets, but I rarely used them as it was too much hassle to pull them out. Now I have a blender, a crockpot, and a mixer. That’s it. What do I need to do that I can’t do with those things? Can you get rid of some your kitchen gadgets?

Furniture: How many chairs do you have in your house? For how many people? Chairs are one of those things that seem to multiply like rabbits, but think about it – each person can only sit in one chair at a time. Do you really need all those chairs you’ve got in your house? When you have guests could you be creative and sit on the floor or footstools?

Sheets and towels: I have no idea how this happened, but we currently have something like nine fitted sheets in the house, but only four beds. I take the sheets off, wash them, and put them right back on. The other five haven’t even come out of the bin since we arrived in Boise 7.5 months ago. Why do we think we need so many? Towels is another – do we really need bucketloads of them?

pile of bikesBikes: OK, I’m guilty here. We have four single bikes and a tandem at the house, but have lots more stored in the barn. While I don’t have a problem getting rid of all the extra furniture stored in the barn, it’ll be hard to get rid of the bikes.

Cars: We’re a one-car family right now and are making it work. Can you make it work too? Maybe with some creative thinking? (Read this post from one family who managed to ditch one car.)

This post is part of a collaborative effort about living with less. Read here about what kinds of things other families get by without.

1 Dad 1 Kid – Living Better With Less
The Nomadic Family – The Ying Yang of Living Without
Tripping Mom – Less stuff, more life
Living Outisde of the Box – Living without
A King’s Life: Living with Less & Spoiling Ourselves
Globetrotting Mama – Living without the stuff
With 2 Kids in Tow – After 10 Months of Living With Less
Raising Miro – Living Without the Norm
A Minor Diversion – What we’ve learnt to live without
New Life on the Road – Living the simple lifestyle but would still love one thing
Carried on the Wind -  Living Without
Livin on the Road – Living Without
Bohemian Travelers – More experiences are easier to collect

living with less

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

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About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

45 thoughts on “Living with less: What can you ditch?

  1. We love living with less! The only thing we miss – bath tub for me, and oven for hubby! We have hardly any cooking pots – only a big saucepan and big frypan, plus the same only smaller.
    We dont have any fancy cooking gadets as we dont have the space.
    Its amazing how little time the bus takes to be cleaned! I love that I dont waste time cleaning all day long – and its so “Free” when we walked away from so much :)

    Cheers
    Lisa
    PS- we only have one car!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Lisa Wood,
    A bathtub… that’s what my husband is going to miss. We took out the horrible brown bathtub that was in the house and replaced it with a shower – so no more baths for a long, long time! We didn’t have an oven while on the road and I’m loving having one! It has some hot spots though, so I’m having a hard time learning how to use it.

    [Reply]

  2. I think that is very true that “other things will work”! That is a huge part to being able to let both material and mental things go in leiu of ore important things. In Costa Rica we really learned that lesson by observing locals, a lesson I will be forever grateful for learning!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Mary,
    People in most of the world “get it” – we’re the odd man out on this one. If we could all get back to basics, I think things would be a lot better.

    [Reply]

  3. Love that quote – “Other things will work.” So true. Hoping to implement that thinking when we return home next summer. Enjoyed your post.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @heather,
    It’s pretty easy to think that way when you don’t have all the stuff around in the first place. It’s getting rid of all that stuff that is difficult because you keep thinking, “What if?”

    [Reply]

  4. Last summer we more than halved our home’s square footage and are now 2 adults and a child living in 650 sq ft. On purpose! We downsized, purged, and sold most of our extraneous belongings. We were surprised to make over $1000 selling our used stuff! Imagine how much we could have saved by not buying it in the first place!!! We do pretty much everything on your list, and haven’t missed anything!!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Rilla,
    Oh man – if you make over a thousand dollars selling it, you would have saved many times that by not buying it! Will we ever learn?

    [Reply]

  5. It’s amazing how much we can do without when we really need to? There was so much I would have thought I couldn’t do without, but I don’t miss at all.

    [Reply]

    Ivana Reply:

    We are doing great without a car, fix phones, and fancy mobiles, also no fridge, and no TV :)
    No meat as well !!
    baby is arriving now in December, we’ll try with clothe diapers !

    Live simple ! We want less !!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Ivana,
    In DECEMBER?!?! How did that happen? Wasn’t it like last month that I heard you were pregnant?? We used cloth diapers for our twins and it worked. When we traveled we used disposables. I’m so excited for you!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Amy,
    It’s funny that way, eh? We think it’s essential, but then we don’t miss it. What’s up with us humans anyway?

    [Reply]

  6. I absolutely agree on the kitchen stuff, which is amazing considering how much I love to cook. I dread opening up our storage when we go back… Thanks for posting. It’s been great reading all the stories from the other families.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Diya,
    I’m in the process of going through our stuff now. Wow! I’ve got a huge load of stuff to get rid of!

    [Reply]

  7. I agree with you on the kitchen gadgets. I love to cook, but when I go to my Mother-in-Law’s house, I am OVER whelmed by the amount of kitchen gadgets. And not just one of each…3 of each! AHHH!!! I tell myself, “Yes, I really can wash that measuring cup if I need to use it twice in the same recipe…I don’t need 3 or more sets!” The temptation exists…but I love keeping the pots/pans/bakers collection simple!!

    That’s funny about all the bikes you have…heehee!!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Living Outside of the Box,
    I think sometimes too many kitchen gadgets just makes it hard to figure out!

    [Reply]

  8. *goes to check* one pot, one pan, nothing to bake in and minimal kitchen gadgets (can you tell I don’t really cook much? it’s not interesting when there’s only one of you), four chairs cause the table came with them, one extra set of sheets in case I need to make up the couch for a guest, and one bike cause I have no car.

    Did I mention how much I HATE stuff, and how one of the best things about travel is you can ditch a lot of it? :D

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Yvette,
    A certain about stuff can be good, but there is definitely a tipping point where it starts to own you.

    [Reply]

  9. Great list! We’ll add to that televisions, and mobile phones, both of which most households have more than one of. we are probably the only family in our circle of friends and family that only have 1 tv, and we only recently got 2 mobile phones. on the road, we have neither, and definitely don’t miss them. wholly agree with the ‘sheets and towels’ too! Great post as usual!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @with2kidsintow,
    I forgot about the TV – since we don’t have one I tend to forget that other people do. Yep, need to add that to the list for sure.

    [Reply]

  10. I love to cook as well and had a huge kitchen full of All-clad pans and tools. Now, travel with 2 nice skillets (which I can make rice, fry, steam, anything in) and 2 chefs knives. To me, it’s worth carrying around these items because we use them multiple times a day and it’s worth it to me to have tools that work well.
    If I were backpacking around the world, I’d leave them because they are heavy and take up space. But since we live in a place for at least 6 months, it’s a nice luxury to have.
    We also take our blender with us (strange, I know), but we use it at least twice a day for smoothies and soups.
    So, for us, we want things that make our lives more comfortable, but we make sure to choose wisely and use the heck out of them.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @S King,
    I think that’s the key – make conscious decisions, buy things wisely, and use the heck out of them! We all know we have items that aren’t absolutely essential to life, but if we’ve made conscious decisions it’s good.

    [Reply]

  11. Nancy,

    I remember before we left for the road counting…. it was ridiculous. We have 32 winter hats, gloves, scarves (and we used to go up to the Chermon Mountains maybe once a year for the afternoon); Kobi had nine belts (he wears one maybe three times a year); 15 pots (need I say I don’t have 15 stove burners; and I can’t recall what else.

    The only thing that is always really hard for me to get rid of is books. Even if my kids have outgrown them, they are water logged, torn, or never read; books (though I’ve donated like 300 books to the Kiryat Shemona Public Library) are hard for me to part with. Even today, I silently mourn some great books that I feel we shouldn’t of given away; but, really, I can’t hold on to them all, no way. Even before we started packing for nomadic family life, even when we were fully living in our home; I had boxes of books with no more shelf space for. For, now, at least, someone is using them.

    Thanks for the great post. I love writing on the same frequency as you.

    Gabi

    [Reply]

  12. It’s been great reading all the stories from the other families. In Costa Rica we really learned that lesson by observing locals, a lesson I will be forever grateful for learning! The only thing that is always really hard for me to get rid of is books. If I were backpacking around the world, I’d leave them because they are heavy and take up space.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Paige Nguyen,
    Books – I understand. And I can’t get rid of my beads. I know I don’t “need” them, but I want them – and that’s OK for now!

    [Reply]

  13. We are down to one pot and one pan, and will never go back to overloading our lives with things. Once you start chucking the things you don’t need, it can really be cleansing.
    Eva

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @eva hamori,
    It’s amazing how little you can live with and not miss the other stuff!

    [Reply]

  14. I’m currently on sabbatical in Berkeley and most of our stuff is back in Ontario (not that we have that much stuff anyway). A few well-chosen items do really improve one’s quality of life (basic spices, lamps, at least enough chairs for the number of people, knives, can openers). Beyond that, the benefit is mostly negative.

    We have only slightly less kitchen stuff here than we do back home. Fewer utensils, for instance. I do wish I had a bigger wok-style pan, but that’s OK.

    I do prefer having a bit more space than this studio, and it would be not so fun to be in this small a space permanently, but certainly for 6 months I can put up with it. Our normal space already isn’t huge.

    One problem with living somewhere for a short time is that you don’t really want to get anything expensive.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @plam,
    Tell me about that! When we first arrived back in Boise after our big bike trip we moved into a small apartment for what we thought would be a few weeks. One thing led to another and then another and we ended up there for seven months!

    Since we knew it was a temporary place to stay, we didn’t want to move anything in or buy anything for it. It was pretty sparse, but it worked.

    [Reply]

  15. Nancy,

    I discovered your website a couple of months ago after reading about you in Women’s Adventure magazine. It took me a couple of months to read your entries, starting with your first trip when the twins were 8 years old. We journeyed with you all the way to the tip of South America. Your family is truly inspirational.

    Two of us from Boise, Idaho (now from Colorado), spent a year on our bicycles touring through 15 countries in Europe. We were 40+ year-old women at the time (2003-4) and did as you and your family. We traveled with a tent and occasionally stayed in a hostel. We cooked our own meals and lived on $27 per day each for the entire year. We are teachers and before we left on our trip, we both sold our homes, our cars, and gave away everything but about 2-3 boxes of mementos. We were living in Boise at the time of our departure for the trip. When we returned to the US, we bought an old $1,000 car in Chicago, put our bikes on top, and drove 5,000 miles (north, south, and west) across the US until the car gave up right outside of Pocatello, ID. Eventually, we landed in Colorado where we now live and own a simple business.

    Your blog about getting rid of things rings true for us. Our business does require a few things, but generally, we have very little. Since returning from our one-year trip, we have a single set of sheets for each bed to wash and return to the beds. We have one set of bath towels each, which we’ve used for over seven years. Same thing, they go in the washer and go back up on the rack. I still don’t have a car (bicycle, bus, share with other car owners) and no TV for either of us. We have very little in the way of furniture.

    Life is much simpler when there are fewer items to maintain and store. It can be hard to part with some items, but most of the time once it is gone, I never think about it. How many times do you open that box that has been sitting around for years and say, “I forgot all about this?” That means you’d never have missed it had you not run across it again.
    We’re all anxious to hear what your next adventurer will be. I’m your age, so I admire your ambition to keep going.

    Penny Richardson

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Penny Richardson,
    That’s awesome Penny! Sounds like you’ve had a few adventures of your own!

    Life really is simpler when you don’t have so much stuff. And cleaning up is easier too :)

    [Reply]

  16. Would have loved to participate in this series – something right up my alley! I agree on the living with less thing, and it is so easy. I remember being in Ukraine and refusing to buy additional items for the apartment since I knew it was temporary. Instead of a ladle, my flatmate and I would use one of those tiny egg pans (it was there when we moved in) to dish out soup or boiling water to make tea. Other English teachers would come over and be amazed when we busted out our technique, but to us, it just made sense to make do with what we had — and it worked just fine! Just a tiny example.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Brooke vs. the World,
    It’s amazing what we can live without when we get creative, eh?

    [Reply]

  17. What a great starter for people weary of getting rid of things because they think they ccan’t do without their things.

    I had no problem getting rid of things but my husband is kind of old school and had a hard time letting go of his massive book collection He’s a literary major (need i say more. For me living on the road and in France, i’ve found that there are certain things i must have with me even when i travel because we like to cook a lot.
    1- A cheese grater ( in the shape of a wand) good for portability
    2- A hand blender or mixer. Good for soups, smoothies and more.
    3- A portable coffee press in the shape of a togo coffee cups.

    I can do without all the other things i had and now have over 300 ebooks in my library and honestly don’t miss my physical books anymore. (it took 2 years to get over the death of my book collection though.).

    Cheers,
    Annie

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    @Annie Andre, It’s always funny to see what kinds of things people can’t live without! I carried a couple pounds of beads with me on my bike – that was my luxury item that I didn’t want to leave behind!

    [Reply]

    Annie Andre Reply:

    @Nancy Sathre-Vogel, You got me at “BEADS”? For making necklaces?

    [Reply]

    Nancy Sathre-Vogel Reply:

    Yep! Here’s one necklace that I made on the road: https://www.etsy.com/listing/108431037/desert-flowers-seed-bead-necklace

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