About five years ago, I decided to ditch my “American Dream” for a backpack and some adventure across the pond in Europe. Many things change when you make such a drastic life change. What I never expected is how much simpler my life would become. I live with so much less now!
It’s no secret that living in Europe is simpler and spaces are much smaller than most places in the US. I went from living in a 1,400 sq. ft. home on a lake in Florida to a 484 sq. ft. (45 sq. mt.) attic apartment atop an 800-year-old building in Italy. Here’s how living in a tiny space quickly taught me to live with much less. This is how Europe “Eurosized” my life.
How much stuff have you sold or thrown out every time you’ve moved houses? Imagine if the next place you move to will only allow you two suit cases filled with your most valuable belongings. That’s what made me detach myself from the things I owned, things I considered “precious”. A month before deciding to move I found out I was pregnant which only added to the complexity of my life choices. I decided that all this change was happening, I was already on the train to adventure, so all I could do was allow the process to change me and grow as time went on. Here are a few of the Eurosizing minimalist living tips I learned from this experience.
Five Before and Afters:
1) Clothing: Before leaving the US I rarely wore the same outfit twice. I was a proud fashionista and getting compliments on my choice of outfit was a highlight of my day. Being a model and singer in the past, getting attention was an important part of what made me, me. After living in Italy, one of the most fashion-forward places on the planet, I learned that even at my most vein levels I could “fare una bella figura” (give a good impression) without the need of constant shopping. Italians pride themselves in investing in classic, elegant, high-quality pieces that stand the test of time. They often repeat clothing, sometimes back to back days and they rarely throw things out. One great, classic jacket to be worn daily is better than five cheap, trendy ones that ripped and became damaged from wear or cleaning. Fast forward four years later, I have come to realize that those pieces can be found in thrift stores if you learn how to treasure hunt (no different than shopping at places like Marshall’s by the way). The path has taken me even a step further, I finally feel comfortable enough in my own skin to wear what makes me feel comfortable, not what gets me the most compliments, I call this “Mindful Fashion“. I ditched my stilettos for some classic chucks and I still feel cool. It’s hard to travel the world wearing heels. I keep a simple palette of colors to make sure I can mix and match easily, but I still love fashion and enjoy clothing. I just avoid putting that passion before the needs of the earth.
2) Home goods and electronics: With stores in the US constantly pushing us items that are “just too good not to buy”. You know you have more knives than you need, more pots you can possibly cook in and enough plates to feed an army. Just like I did, you also have a justification to keep all of it but you know there is a finite amount of items you actually use. I used to buy home items in sets and I rarely shied away from a good deal. I had the space, so why not? After moving into a small space, I made very meticulous choices and purchased single, valuable pieces I knew I would use over and over. I own one good chopping knife, one plate (of each kind), one cup, one mug and one set of silverware per person, one sauce pan, one wok, one pasta pot that drains by the lid, one pressure cooker and bake wear in three sizes, a cup cake tin and a set (the only set I have) of serving spoons in wood. I have cooked everything from sandwiches to holiday dinners with these items. If there is a special occasion and I am missing an item, an item I’ll use only once a year, I simply borrow from a friend! Generally speaking, my living spaces are free of clutter. I now am able to live with much less. I have a lot of space now, but it’s mostly empty. I would add a couch but only if I can get a great deal second hand or get it for free from someone that no longer needs it. Most of the items in the picture below were gifts or freebies from a Dutch site like Craigslist. We make our own art and we stopped caring for aesthetics. Granted, this all can be done and you can still get a great looking room (I am an event planner so I can make an aesthetically pleasing room), but for us right now keeping it light is most important until we decide this is the last stop on this adventure. I make sure my electronics are used to the last drop of relevance and instead of purchasing new ones I try my best to update the hardware until it’s just not possible anymore. My laptop is outdated on the outside but brand new on the inside. My iPhone is still a 4s and it will stay that way until Apple decides to stop supporting it.
3) Toys and articles for kids: Baby showers are the beginning of an excess of things. In Italy no one gets a baby shower so parents have to get everything themselves. Boy was that hard to adjust to! When you have to foot the bill for baby, you quickly choose the most essential things. No one needs 15 onesies in size 0-3 months but we end up with more when he have the big baby bash. No one ever tells you newborns only need you! The rest is simply an expression of your excitement. I channeled that excitement by talking my baby, playing music for him and getting rid of all the non-essential, unsafe things in my flat. I opted for an Attachment Parenting (AP) style since it just seemed cheaper, best for our family and I really didn’t have space for a crib or a stroller. If you wear baby and co-sleep that’s two big expenses to get rid of. I also soon realized kids outgrow things really quickly. We buy almost everything second hand to reduce the environmental impact and reduce the amount of toxins in the clothing. Now, I keep only one pair of shoes (preferably sneakers) in a neutral color per size, I keep an additional pair of rain boots and one pair snow boots because I live in a rainy place. 1 coat, 3 sweaters, 2 pairs of jeans, 7 shirts and 10 pair of underwear and socks is more than plenty if you wash twice weekly. Toys are limited to two bins (that’s all we can fit in the small space) and if he wants something new be it for Christmas or birthdays he must donate something first. We are currently donating things to get ready for the holidays.
4)Habits: I realized that a lot of my american culture circled around shopping. There are malls everywhere in Miami. Holidays always have something to do with a purchase. Grocery stores and theaters are also at the mall which made avoiding shopping impulses practically impossible for me when I lived there. These days, I purchase most of my food from small, specialty stores owned by families. I don’t go to the mall when I am bored, I go to the park, I take walks, or do an activity with my family. I only purchase food or trips for the holidays, I give my son experiences when possible and as few toys as I can until he is old enough to jump into our tradition of giving each other experiences instead of things. I avoid duplicates of things as much as possible and I make a strong effort to detach myself from things and redirect that energy towards mindful life experiences.
5) Ecology: The biggest change for me came a need I had to care for our earth. I thought I was green, and I thought my carbon footprint was small but once I began to see how much excess I had in my life back home I knew I needed a bigger change. Things fill the void for only a short time, experiences can be eternally fulfilling. The more I got out into exploring nature the more I wanted to preserve it. I realized that although many of these changes came with little choice on the matter I knew I could live with them for a long time to come even if my space was bigger. Recycling EVERY bit of waste was a requirement in Italy but now that I have moved to Holland to a larger space I continue to do it even though it’s not required. I also have very little in my apartment as you can see from the pics below. I only buy what I absolutely need and rarely indulge in purchases. Instead, when I feel the void I use that money to go on an adventure. Every time my son asks for cheap, plastic toys I quickly remind him “it hurts our mother earth and it’s our duty to keep her alive and healthy”. The simple choice of recycling, reusing, upcycling, and buying second hand has reduced my carbon footprint threefold. But the biggest change for me is learning to cycle everywhere. The Dutch have this thing down to a perfect science. Choosing a home that is close to stores and your child’s school can make a huge difference. We went from owning three cars and a motorcycle to now owning one car and our bikes!
But how do I feel about it all you ask? Was it hard? Yes, every single drastic change in life requires some initial sacrifice, but once you leave behind the habits that enslaved you, you become empowered and are able to never look back. Non-necessities are quite expensive here but food and trips are not, so that shift was easy but I believe anyone committed to living a simpler life can do it ANYWHERE. As americans we are taught that convenience and comfort are equal to happiness. Europe has taught me otherwise. As my brother said to me when I told him about my life changes, “A rich person is not the one whom has the most but whom needs the least.” I have learned to truly understand the difference between need and want. I also realize that living with less gives me the financial and practical freedom of traveling and living wherever I want. There is no price on living simply, no words to truly explain its power but I can tell you it’s a choice you will never regret.
MaVi wrote this from her flat in the Netherlands, no one knows where she will write from next, not even her. She has spent the last five years of her life traveling the world, going on adventures, living abroad and enjoying her husband and young son while managing her online business mavisocialbutterfly.com.
She writes about her wanderlust experiences on learning from foreign cultures, being green, adventurous, progressive and fearless on her lifestyle blog mavisays.com.