July 25, 2014 Jessie

Ever since I moved to Costa Rica, I’ve caught myself bragging… yes, BRAGGING about how little I have.

I boasted about the time I made a cake with no measuring cups, mixing bowls, and whisks. I called it “adventures in minimalist cooking.”

I babble about the stuff I DON’T have in my house. I proudly list them off: no table (kitchen or coffee), no microwave, no screens in my windows, no countertop kitchen appliances of any kind (other than a coffee maker, which I broke down and bought), no heater, no air conditioner, no bathtub, no television, no car, no dishwasher, no radio, no mobile device with internet capability, and only enough clothes to fit in a suitcase.

I joked about the fact that I started a running routine with no running shoes (I used my hiking boots instead).

I gloated over the night I had company over to my house and we all had a “picnic” on my living room floor because I didn’t have table or chairs for them to use.

Costa Rica isn’t a third world country in the middle of some desert somewhere. I live in San José, a city with 2 million people. Things are available. Granted, imported items are extremely expensive. To give you an idea, I went and bought a pair of workout pants and a tank top on clearance plus two 6-pound dumbbells for working out. Just that cost the equivalent of $75. And not at the fancy store, either. Terrain in Costa Rica is very difficult to navigate, with crazy steep mountain gravel roads, driving up the price of imported goods. But they are available if I wanted them.

The big lesson I’ve learned, though, is that I don’t NEED things. And that’s why I catch myself bragging. Really the only thing about it that’s NOT worth bragging about is how long it took me to realize this.

I did everything right. I did the stereotypical American dream. I graduated college. I got married. I bought a house, owned property, worked a long-term cushy office job, drove a decent car. I had a pool. Twenty one hundred square feet, every inch polished and perfected. I planted roses and had the neighbor’s son mow my lawn. I bought art, knickknacks, kitchen gadgets, furniture, jewelry, clothes. STUFF. I was well on my way to middling mediocrity.

That path? Yeah, it wasn’t for me.

I came here with a suitcase—okay, a massive suitcase, but still—and I haven’t acquired much more along the way, except a coffee maker and some dumbbells, and having my scuba gear brought down, oh, and all those vitamins from that time I visited Texas for work.

My house here is pretty great. Those few who are invited in say it’s nice. It has lots of windows and good light, it’s roomy for one person, and there’s even a little paint on the walls. So my landlady plays pop music… on repeat… right next to my bedroom… for hours (so much so that I once threatened to move out). So my “green space” is about one foot by three feet square. So I kill a cockroach at least once a day. So I had to plug the wall with cement because of the rats. So my curtain is held up by push pins. So my headboard is just leaning against the wall and makes a terrible clatter if it shifts. It’s all I need. I don’t want more. I get stressed out just thinking about having more.

I have learned to have a little and delight in it. My quilt I bought in Guatemala is my prized possession. Partly because it keeps me warm. I recognize things like floor fans and clothes dryers and ovens as the great luxuries they really are. I appreciate things a little more.

Quality of life, I’ve learned, is your reaction, not the stuff you surround yourself with.

People ask me about my long-term plans. This is it, baby. I already did the “right” thing. I already lived someone else’s dream. It wasn’t a good fit. For now I’ll stick to my tiny, ill-equipped, but good-enough apartment and listen to the house gecko sing by candlelight.

Oh, I’m sure I’ll evolve again, do something else, live somewhere else, maybe even acquire more stuff. But this? For now, this is the good life. And I’m proud of it, because I built it. Not the house, but the life. And the minimal amount of stuff I put in it.