My family has just returned to Australia after 7 and a half months living in Indonesia. Why, you ask? Well my husband is Indonesian and grew up there so we took some time off work so we could go and spend time with his family and let our kids experience life in another country, culture and language. Although I have lived there before, it was still an amazing experience full of life-changing moments and decisions. I started Rebel Eco whilst there, my daughter learnt to ride a bike; I made lifelong friends and sampled outrageously good food! It was fascinating watching my 5-year-old daughter interact with her new friends in a mixture of English and Indonesian and navigate cultural differences. It was miraculous watching my 1-year-old daughter begin to walk and speak – in a mixture of Indonesian and English!
I could write at length about all the amazing things that took place (and maybe one day I will!) but this post is about how we survived for 7 and a half months without buying anything but the bare necessities, the lessons we learned, and how our family is better off for it!
So why did we decide to live minimally whilst in Indonesia? I didn’t have a mind-blowing epiphany or anything like that. It really just started with the idea that I didn’t want to buy loads of stuff and then dispose of it at the end of the trip. That then got me thinking about waste and the impact of crappy, useless stuff on our family and the wider world. Then it snowballed into starting up an eco-friendly business and becoming a bit mental when it comes to living low-waste. Also, Indonesia is a place with a lot of visible waste and pollution and not a great formal system for waste disposal and recycling; it is very difficult to avoid seeing the rubbish in the rivers and by the roadside and not be affected by it and want to make changes to reduce your own impact.
This got me thinking, are we really a ‘low-waste’ family? I have always considered us quite an eco-conscious family and certainly not a family that shops for pleasure or buys the latest thing. I thought we only bought toys and clothing for birthdays and Christmases or if necessary, but I may have been slightly deluded. When I stopped and thought about it, I realised that sometimes I would go clothes shopping because I ‘needed’ new clothes, when in reality, I didn’t (sound familiar?). I also admitted to myself that I did occasionally buy toys for the kids on impulse between birthdays and Christmases and worse still, they were usually cheap, plastic junk made overseas. There may have been a small Kinder Surprise habit that needed to be kicked. I know. The horror! *Face palm*.
Once you think about this stuff, it’s hard to unthink it so we set out on a minimalist path with just the ‘stuff’ listed below:
- Clothes – we took 2 medium adult suitcases and 1 child’s suitcase to Indonesia with ‘everyday’ clothes that we could wash and wear over and over. The first week we were there we bought 3-4 t-shirts each and 2 pairs of shorts for my husband. That’s it! I literally had 3 pairs of pants and some gym tights along with t-shirts the WHOLE time and the kids didn’t have much more.
- Furniture/Linen – we rented a semi-furnished house so obviously this cut down how much furniture we had to purchase, but it was great that we didn’t have to buy items that we wouldn’t need at the end of our trip. We had to buy 2 mattresses for the kids who slept on the floor and sheets and towels for a family of 4. The wonderful thing about Indonesia is that when it is dry season, you can have your washing dried in about an hour out in the scorching sun so rather than buying spare sheets and towels, I washed frequently. Ooh! We also bought a TV so my husband could get his fill of cheesy Indonesian soap operas and slapstick comedy shows.
- Kitchen – we were supplied with a stove and a refrigerator and 10 plastic cups that came free with our drying rack. We bought 2 mugs, 5 plates, 1 set of cutlery, 1 cooking pot and 1 frying pan. Oh, and 1 spatula for flipping eggs. That is it! I will admit that we lived on a lot of eggs, toast (fried bread,really), stir-fried veggies, fresh fruit and, you guessed it, STREET FOOD! I gotta say that living without much cooking gear is pretty easy in a country where you can go and get amazing food for $1 a meal, but it still made me realise how much stuff I don’t need.
- Transport – we were lucky that we had family nearby so could borrow a car or motorbike when we needed them, but if we weren’t able to do this we used local transport (similar to Uber) to get around. We mostly used motorbike to get around due to the ridiculous traffic but also as it was the greener choice.
- Toys – we landed in Indonesia without a single toy but didn’t want to go and fill the house with toys we wouldn’t take back to Australia so we bought a few things the kids could share (Lego, colouring pens, colouring books) and then spent our time making our own fun with recycled paper, toilet paper rolls, leftover cardboard and anything else we could find. We did SO MUCH bike riding. And yes, we have an iPad so there were movies too. But we also just got outside and did things like playing at indoor play areas, zoos, eating out, playing badminton, visiting friends with kids (and toys).
- Books – we brought some books from Australia and bought a handful secondhand not long into our trip. We also borrowed kids’ books from friends so we didn’t have to buy any as well as used reading apps on the iPad to make sure we were still getting our daily literacy in.
So that’s basically all the stuff we had. I have never lived with so little before. I am used to being surrounded by all the things I have accumulated in my life; mementos, bookshelves full of books, photographs all over the walls, records, CDs… but I actually felt free living with so little. I didn’t have to make tricky wardrobe choices in the morning (for myself or the kids); we never had piles of dishes in the sink; we interacted with our children more as we invented games and activities; we learnt the art of borrowing and sharing; we repaired rather than replacing; we slept in rooms with more space and no clutter; we got outside and moved; we got to know the locals and ate regularly at the same local eateries and cafés; we were immersed in the culture.
Living like this made me sit back and think about what I wanted for my life back in Australia; I already knew I was going as green as possible and had started my business to further that dream, but I really took note of what I could learn from living this way and from living amongst Indonesian people and here is what I realised (none of which is groundbreaking, but worth realising!) and will be applying to my Aussie life from now on:
- You don’t need ‘stuff’ to be happy; people and activities make me happy. Many Indonesians live without – even middle-class Indonesians seem to have less ‘stuff’ cluttering up their lives – and are some of the most social people I have met. Getting amongst people and sharing a laugh is so much more important than having the latest gadget, watch, clothes etc.
- Time is the most valuable thing you can own. Spend it wisely. Don’t fall down the screen time/online shopping hole each spare moment you get. Appreciate the world and the people in it. Learn, laugh, get out there. It’s been said before, but if you have children, the most important gift you can give them is time.
- Generosity is one of the greatest traits a person can have. Indonesians are some of the most generous people I’ve met and quite often they don’t have much to share, but they share anyway. There is genuine pleasure in being generous and being around generous people. And to be clear, when I say generous, I don’t mean shouting a fancy dinner, I mean, bringing over a homemade dish or a new coffee to try; offering some secondhand clothes or a lift somewhere.
- Repairing and reusing things can make you happy. I feel a sense of achievement each time I save something from being thrown out and feel like a resourceful superwoman when I can fix something! This way of life can certainly make you feel good as well as being good for the world.
So my motto for 2019 is: Repair and Share. If you have something that can be repaired, repair it rather than replacing it. Get more life out of it and save more junk from getting tossed in landfill. If you have an abundance of something or a useful item that you no longer need, share it. Get people in the habit of sharing and passing on things they no longer use. I can think of at least 5 things in my house that I haven’t used for over 5 years (Nintendo 64, anyone?) and I’m going to make a concerted effort to find them good homes this year.
Finally, if you are thinking, why is a chick who runs a website with products that she wants me to buy talking about minimalism? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Well, yes and no. I truly want people to live as low-waste as possible to reduce their impact on the planet but you actually have to buy products to achieve this, just the right products. Ethically-made, organic, natural, reusable, sustainably-packaged products. Enough of a plug? Okay. Oh, and don’t forget to sign up for the Rebel Eco newsletter and free ebook with green swaps for a Green 2019. Plug over.
* Just in case you were wondering what we did with our meagre possessions when we left Indonesia, we gleefully gave them away to friends and family who could use them (Opa is very happy with his new TV; he was still rocking an old box set) or stored things in case we are lucky enough to return for another extended stay in the future.