How Living Abroad Taught Me to Simplify Life
Guest post by Tsh at Simple Mom.
Our family recently lived overseas for nearly four years. We’ve been back for one year as of this month, and in setting up a new home stateside, I’m reminded of several practical things I learned during our time living abroad:
1. You really don’t need that many clothes.
We never had closets when we lived in the Middle East, and many homes outside North America don’t have built-in closets, either. Wardrobes and armoires seriously — and conveniently — limit your clothing allotment. I was fine with one sweater, two pair of jeans, one pair of shorts, a few short and long-sleeved shirts, and about five skirts. My husband had even less than me.
My kids were fine with about a week’s worth of clothing. We stored their off-season clothing or the next size up in the top shelves of their wardrobes.
I was surprised as anybody that we were perfectly content with just these items, and I need to remind myself daily, now that we’re back in the States, that I really do tend to wear the same ten items, regardless of my myriad options.
2. Simple, healthy, in-season food is best. So is walking.
Farm-fresh food was in abundance in our host country, and we enjoyed a farmer’s market right in our neighborhood every Wednesday and Sunday. It took time, but eventually I learned a basic menu planning system for our family — simple meals using in-season ingredients, rotating every two weeks.
Eating the same meal twice in one month is no big deal. I was over-complicating my cooking process by thinking I needed to whip up elaborate meals all the time. In reality, my family is fine with semi-monthly pasta primavera. Simple recipes are easy to repeat.
Plus, we walked everywhere. Our family of four (plus one on the way) didn’t have a car until our last few months abroad when we borrowed one. Even then, gas prices at $12 a gallon meant we still rarely drove. Walking most everywhere helped us live frugally and more healthy.
3. Save your money for what really matters to you.
Living cross-culturally meant we simply weren’t as tempted by little everyday “gazingus pins” — lattes, magazines in English, shoe sales, and high-quality ice cream were so unbelievably expensive that they weren’t even an option, save a few times per year.
This made it easier to save for more meaningful experiences. To celebrate our becoming debt-free and saving up our fully-funded emergency fund, we went to Paris for a week. It was incredibly expensive, but because we paid 100 percent cash, we could merely laugh in wonder at the $100 dinner bill instead of panic.
I admit — it’s been challenging to apply these lessons learned stateside. American culture doesn’t make simple living easy. But it’s still worth it. When you don’t allow your belongings to own you, and when you know your family’s core values, you’re free to make small, daily choices that add up to a lot.
Tsh Oxenreider recovers from wanderlust by drinking black coffee, parenting three little blessings, and writing about simple living at Simple Mom. Her book, Organized Simplicity (F+W Media, 2010), shares her story of packing up her home in 15 boxes and moving it 6,000 miles away.
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