The Holidays are here, and my friend asked me to write a post about living a minimalist life. In all fairness, I’ve never labelled myself as this, but I thought it was interesting, so here we go!
Have you ever thought “why do I have so much clutter, I should get rid of some of it,” but the truth is you don’t because you feel like you need it. 15 months ago, I packed my life up in 2 suitcases and came to Senegal. At that time I had to decide what was important to me and what wasn’t. Since then, I’ve accumulated a bunch of stuff, consumed my half a suitcase of snacks, and wondered again in my life “how do I have so much clutter!” So in reality, I’m a terrible person to talk about this, because I don’t live minimally. I love my luxuries and possessions. I love having things, just to have them. If I think there’s a chance I’ll use it in my second year of service, I’ve kept it. Because of this, I won’t pretend to be some expert, but being the ultimate American I am in owning “too much stuff” I will share what I’ve learned.
People live all over the world with only what’s locally available to them. Disregard Dakar, most people in Senegal buy and sell everything at their local markets. They don’t have things like Sweet Baby Rays, specialty pickles, Barbies, and they most definitely don’t have a Gap. Packing to come to Senegal, I brought a little cooking pot, which is actually quite stupid of me. How do people here cook? They must have pots here, yup they do. I didn’t need to think of my future lifestyle as having nothing available to me. People here live with what’s available to them.
You can feed 20+ people a day with only owning 4 plates, 15 spoons, and 2 plastic mats. Reality is, the food at each meal gets split into 2 bowls, then they are lidded with another plate. Not everyone needs their own plate. Culturally this is a society that shares everything and is also a culture that’s been poor for a long time. It’s difficult to afford a plate for everyone, and it’s even more difficult to plate each according to how hungry each person is. Therefore, feeding everyone out of the same bowl lets whoever wants to eat very little, eat very little, and those who want to eat a lot, eat more. The result is less food waste. Especially with children, who have no idea how much they can eat versus how much they want to eat.
Children don’t need extravagant brain training games to survive. I would even argue not having teaching games on iPads is better. Children are forced to be creative with what they have. I’ve seen kids have fun just rolling a tire around while chasing it with a stick. I’ve witnessed children create drum sets with old cans, wire, and thin rubber. I’ve watched children build treehouses with chunks of a fallen tree and some rope. I’ve played in a swing a child built with wood and rope. No one teaches them how to do these things, they create them. That’s a pretty unique skill.
I will say this, there is a reason why people say Senegal has “peace.” This lifestyle with simple enjoyments and a strong family base is why Senegal has so much “peace.” It’s really difficult to explain, but the mindset is really what it comes down to. My friend and I were talking and we discussed these “Orange Money” booths all over the place. When people get money transferred to them they can cash it out at these booths. These men who sit inside have millions and millions of local money. No one tries to rob them, no one even asks for more than they are supposed to get because everyone knows that life in Senegal is hard, and taking something from someone else is making them worse off (though that’s always true when it comes to stealing). But in my opinion it’s all about the mindset, and that’s what creates peace.
Now I’m not telling you to donate all your possessions, but I’m simply encouraging you to think about how other people are living their lives. Even more so, I’m not saying have pity for people here, for they find true happiness in their every day lives with sitting with their families, playing with tires, and eating communally. This is life here and it’s AWESOME.
Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas,