Seven months on – and still living (more or less) simply

Seven months. In some ways it seems like it’s been seven years since we arrived back in the USA; in other ways seven days. Tomorrow, on our seven month anniversary of arriving in our home country, we’ll be moving into our house.

john grouting tile floor

The bathroom floor has been tiled and grouted - now we need to get the toilet in!

We’ve been working frantically trying to get the house ready, but it’s not anywhere close. We finally decided we would move in as soon as we had a toilet. Everything else was a luxury. Including a shower.

So it is that we’ll soon leave our little casa de nada (house of nothing) and move into a real house, albeit one without a shower. We’ll unpack the barn and have real chairs to sit in and real beds to sleep in. I’ll have a real kitchen to cook in and we’ll have real dishes to eat out of rather than the recycled yogurt containers we’ve been using for seven months.

And I’ll have a washing machine.

I’m cracking up over my excitement about a washing machine. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was amazed when I found a laundromat. It was magical to walk in, throw my clothes in a machine, push a button, and *poof* just like that, my clothes were clean. Each and every time I load our dirty clothes in the car and drive to the laundromat I’m reminded anew of that magic. And to think I’ll soon have a washing machine in my own little house.

I’m trying hard to maintain my sense of wonder and amazement at the simple things that add so much to my life.

Sometimes I find myself slipping into the commercialism so rampant in my society, but then I reach down, grab myself by the bootstraps, and yank myself back out.

The other day as I drove the boys to Boy Scouts, the road was closed. We were running late and were in a hurry to get to their meeting and, as I turned off the main road onto some small lane running through a residential neighborhood, I found myself getting frustrated. “Why now?” I fumed. “Why couldn’t they close the road somewhere else or sometime else when it doesn’t matter?”

But then I took a deep breath and thought back to our 400-mile detour in Bolivia. On bikes. FOUR HUNDRED MILES!

The road we had planned to take through the center of the country was closed due to a strike. Our options were limited, but the best included climbing up and over the Andes Mountains before dropping down into the Amazon basin. From there we turned right and headed into Argentina. Our detour took us a couple weeks of cycling.

And I got upset about a mile? In a car? What’s wrong with me? Have I changed that much in seven months?

My friend Justin from The Great Family Escape was talking the other day about how hard it is to escape the corporate influence in the USA.

“I want to live without the influence of all this stuff and be able to see the world as it’s meant to be seen – AD FREE! For me, the only way to find out what I can live without is to obviously live without it. And the only way I think I can do that successfully or fully, is to get myself and my family away from all this crap. To move our lives away from the maddening crowd and relearn life.”

Do we really need to get away from the ads and corporate influence? Or can we simply make conscious decisions to live life more simply?

be yourself in a world trying to change youI admit I’m struggling with that idea. I walk into K-Mart to buy dish soap and see the gorgeous crystal bracelet sitting there and immediately fall into that “must have” trap. Or I go to the bead store to buy a simple finding for something I’m making and fall in love with sparkly Czech beads.

I’m trying to keep my life simple. I don’t necessarily want it as simple as it was on the road, but I don’t need the excesses that most Americans consider essential.

I love having a frying pan in addition to my pot and a chair to sit on rather than hoping for a stump. I love having more than two sets of clothing and more than one pair of shoes. It’s really nice to have a lamp to use while reading in bed rather than having to hold a tiny little penlight. I like having a consistent source of hot water. Heck – I enjoy having water!

I think the answer to dealing with American consumerism comes down to making conscious decisions and living intentionally.

Whatever I buy now I truly evaluate: will this item add value to my life or am I buying it simply to spend money. If it’s something that will truly make me happy for whatever reason, then I have no problem buying it. If not, I pass it by.

attitude changes everythingAs I look around my casa de nada, I’m surprised to see how full it is. When we arrived here seven months ago we arrived with only the contents of our panniers. Now, we’ve got significantly more than that. I like to think we’ve got enough.

It’s been seven months – 210 days. In many ways I’m scared to see how much “stuff” I will have amassed by one year. How much of an impact will the American corporate influence have on me?

I truly hope I will come back here in five months and report that we’re still living simply. And I hope I still marvel at my washing machine each and every time I put a load of clothes in it.

***Are you making conscious decisions and living intentionally?***

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

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.

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14 Responses to Seven months on – and still living (more or less) simply

  1. Stuart November 4, 2011 at 3:23 am #

    I feel your pain Nancy and the excitement of the washing machine. We too find it hard to escape and resist the pervasive grip of consumerism when we’re not on the road. Somehow it’s much easier in the bubble on the road? I know that crystal bracelet urge from my rare visits to the shopping mall but does it come from within or is it subconsciously programmed into me? Sounds a bit conspiratorial but George Monbiot wrote incisively about this in the UK Guardian recently, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/oct/24/advertising-poison-hooked Plenty of food for thought in here. Thanks for sharing. Good luck with the move. Will you be getting a tumble dryer? ;-)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Stuart,
    Great article! Thanks for posting that. I honestly don’t know how that urge gets there – that’s an interesting thought for sure.

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  2. Yvette November 4, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    Congrats on the new move- btw whatever happened to the brown tub? :)

    I always find the “stuff” question an interesting one because one of the best things about long-term travel IMO is how you can just live out of your [insert size here] bag and not worry about having more stuff. When I moved to Holland two months-ish ago I did it with three suitcases and they were mainly filled with clothes and books, the former because they’re expensive to buy in Europe and the latter because I’m sentimental about some old favorites. Now live in a furnished apartment and while there are certainly some more things than those first suitcases, I could definitely still move with just one cab ride.

    To be fair, the fact that everything is damn expensive in Europe has helped this minimization quite a bit. ;)

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Yvette,
    It’s funny how stuff just appears when you’re stationary for a while. Whenever we stopped for a month or so on our journey, when we went to pack up we found we had more stuff than we arrived with. And that was just for a month!

    As for the brown tub – it’s history. I had actually wanted to keep it and do something funky with it, but some people came to clean up our yard and they hauled it away. Darn!

    [Reply]

    Yvette Reply:

    @Nancy, Ah well, pity about the tub.

    Btw your post reminded me of a book I read years ago in high school where the main character had only 75 possessions because he wanted to maintain a minimum footprint (a notebook would count as one thing even if it had a hundred pages, a pair of socks was one thing, various random rules like that). So the point was that because he stuck to such a small number he always had to think very hard about whether it was worth getting rid of one possession to get another.

    I mean in some senses I don’t know if it really matters or works that way because I don’t see how buying a new book is really a net loss in my life- I’ll learn something, and if it’s not good I’ll just not move with it later- but it was interesting food for thought at the time.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Yvette,
    I think a random number like 75 is pretty silly. Better to truly evaluate each item you buy and decide if it will add value to your life or not.

  3. Alice Ricard November 4, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    A lot of people live the simple life with no problem make yourself one of them. God, family,love, and happiness is what is important not material things. The simple life is for me as you said water, a kitchen, and a washing machine those are simple.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Alice Ricard,
    It’s very true that it’s possible to live simply in the USA! That being said, there is pressure from all sides to buy, buy, buy. I suspect we’ll always live simply – although not as simply as we did on the road.

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  4. Justin November 4, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    Where do I begin?

    To me, a 400 Mile detour through Bolivia sounds like a vacation while a mile in traffic sounds like horror. Is that crazy?

    I am convinced the lighting in stores gives me headaches. And the idea of wearing my winter gear through a crowded mall during the holiday season makes me ill. There is something about stuff I just can’t stand, and yet I have stuff.

    I think you have such a unique lens with which to view the world. Your adventures forced you to live with less, and so now you can. But now I will be so interested to see what develops over the next couple of months. Does the environment dictate you, or do you dictate the environment?

    I find it so intersting that you are modeling your bathroom and I am selling mine. It’s like we passed each other on the road and are heading in different directions. I want Bolivia, you want Idaho. But we both want simple.

    Thanks so much for the kind mention!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Justin,
    I think the key is to follow your heart – whereever it leads! I’ve traveled pretty much non-stop for the past 27 years and am now thinking that settling down for a while sounds pretty darn nice! But really, I don’t think we are heading in different directions – we’re both pursuing our passions and living our dreams. It’s just that those dreams are leading us to different places.

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  5. Anna November 7, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    I can identify myself with you and your situation! I used to live in the middle of a construction area before, as we were very eager to move in a house that was too much left to do on. We for example had to go outside to a different part of the house where the temporary kitchen was located. Very funny in the middle of the winter. :)

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  6. Alex Dupuy November 8, 2011 at 10:29 am #

    It’s always hard to keep that different viewpoint about what you really need (as opposed to what might be nice to have). We had a similar transition many years ago after returning from fieldwork in a small Guatemalan town. You can try to hold on to it, but it is rather difficult. Trying to limit the number of things is difficult (unless you are a true ascetic) but you can try to get rid of something whenever you bring something else home. The tricky part is getting rid of things – unless you are the kind of person who can just throw stuff into the trash even if it is still useful (for somebody, just not you) – it’s hard to find new homes for unwanted things. One technique that can help is to avoid buying new as much as possible. This dramatically reduces your impact, and makes it just that little bit harder to find new things – unless you really do need them.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Alex Dupuy,
    When we were traveling, we had the self-imposed limit of what we were willing to carry on our bikes. Now that we don’t have to put everything on them, it’s easy to accumulate stuff. That being said, we’re pretty frugal so I don’t think it will be ahuge issue for us.

    [Reply]

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