Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More-or-less living “more with less.”

I highly suggest you read the book Living More with Less. I re-read parts of it on summer vacation, and so much of it still lingers in my brain. I am reminded of many people that do this well…that conserve resources and simplify their lives so that the world can be a better place for future generations.

Incidentally, Aaron and I don’t do it well. We ate at fast food restaurants in Newton. We sometimes bought groceries on the credit card. It was common to have 5-6 different kinds of cereal in the house. We indulged in large meals, special desserts, and turning up the heat. Sometimes I threw something away that could have been recycled. Sometimes I fell asleep with the TV on.

There were many reasons we wanted to volunteer with MCC. We believed strongly in the mission of the organization. We know that MCC is careful and intentional in their work with the global community, and is well respected for that work. We wanted our family to have the adventure and challenge of learning to live in another culture. We wanted to do work that contributed to the values we believe in as Mennonites and members of the human race. We wanted to re-focus our attention outward in hopes that we would see things differently. We wanted to be molded by the relationships we would make, and contribute with stories of challenge and change.

And, we wanted to simplify.

So, now we are living on a budget that is provided to us. We are grateful for the “freedom” of knowing that all of our basic needs will be met. Still, this budget challenges us to re-evaluate the way we have made household decisions in the past. We have “plenty” of money to buy food (don’t worry, Mom). However, some of the luxuries from the past are simply no longer accessible to us in this setting, and we have been forced to make some changes.

The first few months have been hard. When you are hungry and tired and stressed in a new environment, it is easy to turn to “convenience” for sustenance….grab an imported can of something…eat at the restaurant across the street because the kids are hungry and we don’t know of any other places in the neighborhood…buy junk afterschool because you are just so grateful they made it through the day and you just don’t care…

We now have the energy to try harder, knowing that this is part of it. Part of our mission is to make changes that will give us the intentionality we need to live simply.

These are some of the things we will try instead…

Don’t buy water

Make big batches of beans/salsa and freeze in small amounts

Smaller portions. When we eat out, this often means sharing. At home, it means one serving, and the creative and responsible use of our leftovers.

Make our own juice (easy in a country that produces so much fruit)

Buy herbs at the market to steep tea, instead of bags at the grocery store.

Use the market whenever possible for fruits and vegetables.

Visit the bulk food store once a month for large containers of flour, oil, sugar, rice, beans, cleaning supplies.

Visit the local grocery store on Tuesdays for 20% off produce and on Saturdays for 20% off meat.

Use less meat. Use ½ package for soups and sauces and save the rest.

In Colombia, desserts are not common, and when they are, they are small fruit desserts or little candies. We can make desserts smaller at home. We still like to make cookies, but we can surely cut them small.

Use cereal sparingly. Make granola instead.

Don’t buy salad dressing. Making your own is too tasty and too easy.

Popcorn is a lovely, cheap snack. Make it often.

Be grateful for whatever there is to eat, knowing that so many in this world go to bed hungry.

I am still learning from this process. There is always room for improvement, and more ideas. We are inspired by so many that do this well, even in a culture that pushes us to spend big and use lots. We will continue to explore other ways we can reduce our consumption so that others can have more.

Do you have ideas about simple living? We welcome your thoughts…


  1. Strange, I feel like I am being encouraged to look at how we live (sometimes simply, sometimes not), right alongside all of you...thank you for this. I look forward to hearing more about these challenges and how you meet them...

  2. As an MVS'er in You-Know-Where, I remember going to the grocery store with a housemate and we used a calculator to punch in the numbers every time we put something in our cart. We had $80/week to feed 6 of us. Oh, the coordination of all that! We were in cooking pairs each week and each pair cooked a supper. Most of us loved to cook, so we had to often discuss the contents in each meal and brainstorm of alternative ingredients if they were too expensive and/or compromise to make that meal the next week. Not to mention, the money we saved by using coupons! I think we saved $15-$20/week with coupons. It was interesting making the transition out of VS and all the sudden I could afford lots, lots more with my new teaching job, but I had it ingrained in me to be responsible, only buy what I needed, use leftovers, get creative, etc. I fudge here and there, of course, but for the most part, I think doing MVS was a great kick-off for my out-of-school-adult-independent life.

  3. ha! my first thought is that you already did so many of those things! this means that you will be able to take it steps further...thanks for the nudges.

  4. Do you already make weekly meal plans? I didn't grow up in a household that did that, and it recently has bothered me how much food was wasted growing up. Someone else inspired me to plan menus for the week and go grocery shopping once for the week, and we waste very little - we usually only throw food away if we don't eat leftovers or have to buy more produce than necessary (for example, cilantro or green onions that come in bunches).

  5. Thank you, Jenny. As always, beautiful, inspiring, you.

  6. We were just talking about not wasting so much last night. Sally actually just got a tattoo that says "Simple" as a reminder to just be. She always says how she just wants to live a simple, happy life. Find the beauty around you in the little things, and appreciate what we have.

    We are good about this sometimes, but convenience, like you said, is so easy, and it wins out much too often.

    I think back to when we went to Europe. We were staying at my friend's place in Switzerland and they reused everything. Beer bottles were taken back to the store, where they were cleaned and resued. She had a teeny fridge so she couldn't buy too much food and waste it (plus less energy). Everyone had their windows open instead of having the air on. Many people shared a washing machine, and they had a community room where clothes lines were hung inside and drying racks were used instead of dryers. All fruit peelings went out to the garden. And what I found most interesting, was that you had to pay for each individual bag of trash. So the less trash you have, the less you pay. What a great concept. All over Europe where we went, there were no plastic trash sacks. You brought your own bag, and if you didn't have one, you had to buy one. When my friend comes back to the states, she is always amazed by how much we waste, and how much food we have for each meal.

    I'm rambling, but just wanted to say that I agree with you about finding ways to live simpler. Good luck!

  7. woops. sorry. that comment was from gwama, not katie. it's my fault, for forgetting to sign out on her computer!

    lovely post!

  8. What I like about the way you talk about "simple" is that it doesn't mean "without pleasure." Reminds me that some of the best, most amazing food that human beings have developed was the result of people making do on limited resources.