I am excited to have Whitney from Journey Mercies guest posting here on the blog today, especially with the topic that she has chosen, she sums up so much of what I have been thinking and living these last few months.
Hi, friends! I’m Whitney – wife, momma, expat living in Cambodia, lover of books and fine beverages and travel, and follower of Jesus. I blog at Journey Mercies and would be thrilled if you’d stop by to say hi. I’m taking over Chantel’s blog for the day to talk about living simply, Cambodian-style.
Living in Cambodia for three years has taught me countless lessons. One lesson is how to put the mantra of frugal living into practice: use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.
If you’re not familiar with it, Cambodia is a developing country located in Southeast Asia between Thailand and Vietnam. Recovery from a four-year-long genocide in the 1970’s has taken decades, and most of the population still struggles along on a daily income of $1 in rural areas.
In the capital cities, Western food and conveniences are becoming more easily accessible, but they are mostly unheard of in rural towns, such as Poipet, where I live. Because of that lack of convenience, I have learned to live creatively within the restrictions of what’s locally available.
I hope that, by reading my story, you will also find ways to live creatively in the simple lifestyle you have chosen.
USE IT UP
Or, as my grandmother always preached, “waste not, want not.” When I lived in the United States, I was often careless about finishing off the last of my shampoo or peanut butter, or buying more make-up because I was bored with what I had, not because I needed any more. The easy access to new and exciting items (especially with sales and coupons!) made it less necessary to use up what was left before buying something new. (anyone else have three different kinds of body washes and shampoos in their showers, too?!)
But here in my town, I can’t buy peanut butter. Or a loaf of bread. Or cheese. So if any of those are in my fridge because of a recent shopping trip in the “big city”, I make sure I use them up before they go bad.
One thing that has actually helped us in this area is having a small refrigerator. Our fridge and freezer is about half the size of a normal American one. At first, I was baffled at how to fit all our food in. But now we’ve adjusted to the small size, and it actually helps us use up our food before it goes bad.
Sometimes having smaller spaces isn’t a problem. Don’t think about how to get a bigger space for more stuff – like a bigger closet for more clothes or more pantry space for more food. Think of how you can eliminate non-essentials to live creatively within the space you have.
WEAR IT OUT
If you looked at my closet at the condition of my clothes, you might think I’ve taken this a bit too far! But Cambodians know how to make something last.
In my past, if a garment had a hole or lost a button, it was often easier to chuck it than to bother repairing it. It didn’t help that many of my clothes were purchased at “fast fashion joints”, where quantity sold was valued over quality sold.
Yet here, people repair the clothes they have and wear them til they can’t be worn anymore – then turn them into cleaning rags or cloth strips to use in packages and rugs. Tailors are also extremely affordable, which has allowed me to re-hem jeans whose edges have gone ragged and to resize garments a size too big. You can even get your shoes resoled on the street.
Although tailors may not be quite as affordable in America, you can still take time to learn skills that will allow you to maintain your wardrobe. If you also spend more on quality, ethically-made garments, you will also be more motivated to keep wearing them until they are worn out. Buy clothes that can last you years, and learn how to do simple repairs that will keep them working for you as long as possible.
MAKE IT DO
Did you ever watch the TV show “MacGyver” from the 1980’s? MacGyver was a spy who would use a Swiss Army knife, duct tape, and other random bits of household supplies to make a bomb or flotation device, saving the day and the episode.
I’m pretty sure MacGyver visited Cambodia and took notes, because Cambodians are incredibly creative at fixing solutions with few resources.
A few months ago, our breaker system outside our house was malfunctioning, causing the breakers to flip down and refuse to stay up, leaving us without power at random times of the day and night. The electric company was unreliable and took days to respond. In the meantime, our landlord propped open the breaker with a large stick tied in place through a wire fence. I don’t actually recommend this, but it should give you an idea of how people here “make do” with what they have!
It’s often easy to rush out when something breaks or isn’t quite right, and buy a whole new item, or find the quickest (but most expensive) fix. But this can leave you with a drawer full of tools you may never use again or items languishing on a shelf because you haven’t bothered to fix it.
But you can learn to “make it do” – and super glue does wonders. I’ve chipped serving bowls and broken the handle of my favorite mug, yet continue to use them because I take the time to fix what I have and keep using it.
Learn skills that allow you to take care of regular household problems, such as basic plumbing, painting, and woodwork. If something breaks, try to learn how to fix it before tossing it or donating it to the thrift store. If you’re working towards a simple lifestyle and have already minimized your possessions, the remaining ones will be valuable enough for you to take proper care of them.
This was the hardest one for me to learn. It baffled me to not be able to buy a picture frame, canned tomatoes, or cereal in our town. And on our infrequent trips to the big city, I’d spend big money picking up those items.
But slowly, my buying habits have changed, and I’ve adjusted to occasionally going without bread or cheese or a new pair of shoes. I rarely wear make-up, and I can’t justify buying new jewelry when I hardly wear what I own now on a regular basis.
I’ve also learned to adjust recipes that call for exotic (and unavailable) ingredients, like feta cheese or olives. If you have a recipe that calls for an ingredient you wouldn’t use in anything else, just leave it out, or find a substitute that you already own. You’d be surprised at how easily adaptable most recipes are.
If there’s an item in your garage that you only use once a year, such as a rug cleaner or a mountain bike, consider selling it now and renting or borrowing it when the need arises. You’ll free up space and money for something else you may enjoy on a more regular basis.
I hope these stories and ideas have stimulated some thoughts on how you can use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without in your own life! What tips do you have to share about doing without? How will you “make it do” in the future?
Whitney is a tea-drinking, extroverted, travel-addicted book nerd who currently lives in Cambodia with her husband and son. She blogs at Journey Mercies about pursuing Jesus, loving people, living justly, and exploring the world. You can follow her travels and thoughts on Instagram and Twitter.