I’m almost sure that these 15 things make up the complete list of the non-food items we’ve bought to use while in Spain:
- papel higiénico (TP–and I’m counting this as a single thing, despite the fact that we’ve bought several packages)
- a couple of lighters to light the stove burners–the short one that el Guapo can use without burning himself, and the long one that helped me not fear the stove
- a longer bread knife (all these rustic loaves needed more serration than we had to begin with)
- a pair of sharper scissors, for opening the bricks of milk
- a small saw, so Loquita could carve a sword out of a board harvested from a broken couch (another story in itself)
- a hand blender (I managed to puree my first batch of potato soup in the citrus juicer, but it was a prodigious mess)
- a four pack of AAA batteries (for reviving the digital scale)
- a bottle of shampoo
- a block of square memo notes that Ninja is using for origami
- 2 bottles of dish soap (it surprised me that we’ve gone through it so fast–it’s not as concentrated as the stuff I’m used to, and much more often employed since we don’t have enough dishes to use the dishwasher)
- a bottle of laundry detergent
- a bike lock
- a bike pump to replace the once we lost that belonged to a friend
By most ways of reckoning, this is a pretty short list for 5 months, reflecting what surely seems to most people like unnecessary effort. Why have we been making our milk brick packages into fruit cutting boards (besides the obvious cool silver color)? Our answer: so that the fruit doesn’t taste like onions or garlic, as the regular cutting board tends to retain just a hint, even after washing. Our daughter Limonada’s real question is, why didn’t we just buy another cutting board? Because we’re not playing that game. The game we’re playing is “Let’s see just how small we can make our footprint here.”
So we pick up rubber bands off the sidewalk when we see them, and then we don’t have to buy rubber bands. And we made a nice trivet out of rescued corrugated cardboard. And we use our cloth totes to carry the groceries, so we don’t have to buy grocery bags (a very small cost in euro cents, but still a point against us in our game). And we use our produce bags, and the random grocery bags we pick up on our walks, as our trash bags. And we built el Guapo’s standing desk out of cast-off computer boxes from his college. And I built a yogurt maker out of the mop bucket and some plastic bags and strips of closed cell foam from inside the cast-off computer boxes that made the standing desk.
It’s hard for me to sit through a game of monopoly, and there aren’t many card games I have patience for, but this game that I’m describing is one I’m good at–it’s my extreme sport of choice. Of course, it’s not a competitive game in the classic sense–I’m not in a league. While there are certainly people who try hard to consume very little, as far as I know they don’t get together for tournaments. Though perhaps among friends they sometimes gather to compare notes (sort of the opposite of bragging about the size of the fish you caught: “I managed to make it this long without buying one!”).
It’s ironic that I’ve bought so little here in Spain, where we have so little to begin with. We live in a very minimally furnished apartment. For example, of kitchen gear there is precious little: I bake pies in an enamel skillet, and use a drinking glass to mash potatoes.
Of course we brought a few things with us, to add to the few things here. They all fit, along with clothing and school materials for 5 months, in our one suitcase, one carry-on and one “personal” item per passenger. In the US I blush to admit that I have so much stuff in so many categories that there’s no telling how long I could go without buying things. So this has been especially enlightening for me, helping me see my potential way forward in a minimalist direction.
I will say that the universe has been known to help out in projects like this. Standing in the laundry aisle, contemplating the bars of laundry soap, I debated about how much of that huge bar I might actually use in 5 months, and decided against buying it. Providence smiled upon me anon: while walking to church that Sunday I found, out on the sidewalk by a dumpster, a large bar of laundry soap, set neatly on a scrubbing sponge. Of course I tucked it away in my church bag. Score! (El Guapo worries about me coming across as a bag lady–but in fact I did put it in my bag. Should I have worried that it might be dirty? It’s soap, after all.)
I am looking forward to having a few of my kitchen tools to use again (how could I have forgotten to bring my zester to this land of lovely citrus?!), but I’m hoping that this season’s game of radical frugality will inspire me to make some changes at the old homestead. And if you’ve been thinking about shopping for something, wait before you buy–let me know what it is, and I’ll see if I’ve got one you can have. That would be a win-win, for sure!