At some point while we were collecting advice on moving to Exuma, someone said we should bring measuring cups for the kitchen. It seemed like an especially random thing to mention considering that when you are moving to a new country, there are seemingly way more important things to worry about. The sheer randomness of the measuring cups had the benefit of making us remember to bring some. Which is good: our fully furnished house did not come with any.
I’m learning how to live and consume differently here. It’s based on a general lack of access to ‘things’ that I was totally taking for granted in California. There is a subconscious security there in which you can always find, replace, or order whatever you need or want. Or even things that you aren’t sure you really want, but are cheap enough and easy enough to get that, sure…you’ll give it a try. Oh, the luxury of impulse purchases!
Have you ever walked into a store and not wanted a single item in it? Probably not. I’ll admit that purposeless shopping has been a way for me to unwind: walking into a brightly lit store, full of colorful and distracting things for me to touch and think about owning with the flippant ability to justify whether or not I really *need* something. This does not happen for me here in Exuma. In fact, I often leave empty-handed. I won’t say that I don’t miss it, but there are some interesting benefits.
Perhaps its due to the remoteness of our new location, or living in an economy that only covers the necessities, but the fact that some things are so hard to get is leading to an unintentionally Zen way of life. Simpler, more beautiful.
Let me give some examples:
- Fresh produce comes once a week, by boat. Get it early, or…don’t get it.
- There were 3 gas stations on the island, until one closed. Now we think about gas consumption and when the good times to refill are without experiencing super long lines.
- We walked into the convenience store for masking tape and Q-tips. They were out of stock…of both. Our projects can wait.
- We don’t have a street address. But people know which house we live in.
- I waited until my mom came to visit so that she could bring my tennis shoes. I don’t know where you can get them here. I still have no idea where people buy underwear.
- Why use a rubber band, when you can use something that creates no waste and costs nothing?
But don’t let me give the impression that there aren’t other options. It’s common practice to order things online, and have it jumbled into a giant weekly shipment from Fort Lauderdale to Exuma. This, however, is expensive. It’s safe to estimate that you will pay an average of 45% customs duty for whatever you bring in. They are going to go through your stuff (and we’ve experienced some sticky fingers). Then you have to pay the customs broker who works with the customs officers to make sure you are paying the correct amount in customs. And, of course, there are ye old-timey shipping fees.
This has led me to really examine how badly I want something. I now make myself define the need for something before ordering. And guess what – I’ve basically stopped shopping.
So what is this teaching us about stuff? I think it comes down to these things: Make sure you need it, take care of it once you have it, and help each other. It’s a BIG deal to lend someone a drill bit. You have saved the person at least $20, in addition to the trouble of driving to every store on the island until they find the right one. As the owner of the drill bit, you are taking a risk about ever getting it back or having to replace it. Which is also expensive and takes a lot of time. But we’re in this together, right? You’ll eventually have something I don’t but that I’ll need to borrow. Just keep a sense of humor about things and it generally works out.
The craziest thing and possibly the hardest to come to terms with is the final lesson.
You have enough.
Those are some powerful words.
I am totally fine disclosing that I have a shopping list for my next trip back to the States, but for now my needs are being met with what we have and with what we have access to. In reality, I can do without everything on that list. I have a community of people that I can help and who I can ask for help from if I need it. But the stuff of want – vanity, comfort, fun – are going to drive me to make those purchases. Which is OK; that’s what we work for. But really, you and I have enough.