In Stories, Travel, Travel Series

Traveling abroad teaches you what necessity means

Hong Kong is not exactly a Third World country, but it is not a country full of excesses like what I’ve been used to in North America even as a minimalist.

Traveling is one of the best educations a person can have, and I daresay it is far more valuable than going to college especially if you can’t make a decent living after all that student debt.

You don’t even need a lot of money to travel if you’re willing to stay in hostels and eat on the cheap.

(I have a whole rant on college building up in my head as we speak)

So far, this is what I’ve observed in Hong Kong in terms of necessity:

THEY DON’T OVER EAT OR EAT IN EXCESS

Being fat or obese here is a rarity, and it’s no small thanks to all the stairways, the tight spaces, public transportation that moves quite fast, and that people are not used to all-you-can-eat buffets.

They buy their food twice a day so that it is as fresh as possible for their lunch and their dinner, and they don’t really buy a lot of junk food.

Photograph-Travel-Hong-Kong-Asia-Market-Butcher-Friends-Meat-Food

A photograph I took in Hong Kong (2012) of a butcher in one of their outside wet markets

I do find the meat being outside, and not refrigerated being a health issue, but I guess if they haven’t died yet, it must be all right for a few hours….


The younger generation eats badly (I can see in their pimpled, makeup-slathered faces), but I don’t see it as much in the older generation. They stick to their customs of boiled, steamed or fairly low fat foods.

There are old men here who are working past their 60s, with rock-hard abs and nary an ounce of fat in sight.

There is also a greater emphasis on tofu, vegetables, healthy soups in the morning (yuck, herbal soups make me gag), drinking teas and soy milk rather than soda.

They don’t eat unnecessarily, it seems. Or at the very least, they sure burn it off.

THE AVERAGE INCOME IS $1700 USD/MONTH

If you are willing to live far away from Hong Kong Island (or perhaps just across in Kowloon), you can grab a closet for about $300 – $500 USD / month.

If you want to live on the island (much like the island of Manhattan), it’ll run you about $2000 – $3000 USD / month.

What do we really need in a home, after all?

Due to necessity, they can’t really have a sprawling mansion, unless you are a millionaire many times over who can afford to live on The Peak.

SMALL, TIGHT SPACES ARE THE NORM

Photograph-Travel-Macau-Asia-Home-Apartment-5

A photograph I took in Hong Kong just last week of some small apartments (2012)

For one thing, the hotel room I am in is 11 square meters. Yes. 11 square meters or 120 square feet.

Imagine walking in about 3 steps, and your bed is right there. No real space to manoeuvre.

Not even big enough for what some North Americans might call a decent-sized walk-in closet.

This hotel was a former apartment building, to be sure.

The ceilings are far too high, and we think that there used to be a ladder and a loft-space where you’d sleep up top, and a very small kitchen and living area where we now sleep.

I think it may have been apartments for singletons (the view is incredible), but I wouldn’t put it past the Chinese to live as a whole family in a space like this.

It made me think of how much space we’re all used to. When I watched HGTV, I would listen to people wrinkle their noses at a 2000 square feet, saying it was too small. They have NO IDEA what small is.

Even this is luxurious compared to how people in Japan live at times (hotel capsules, anyone?)

YOU DON’T CARE OR USE AS MUCH AS YOU THINK

As a traveler, you really start to realize that you just don’t care about how people see you. Out of necessity and for comfort, you simply don’t care.

Yes, I look like some crazy hobo, but I am making sure I don’t burn, and my feet don’t blister and hurt after 5 weeks of touring.


You also don’t use as much of what you packed as you think.

This is of course, what started my minimalism, but it’s so true.

I am currently living for 5 weeks on 3 tops, 2 bottoms, 1 pair of shoes and 2 pairs of socks (I rotate and wash nightly).

I’m thinking of cutting back on a top next time.

I am starting to see what I do and don’t use, which is helpful for packing the next time.

WHAT ELSE IS UNNECESSARY IN LIFE?

It started making me think about what else in my life was not really that necessary.

If people can live in 11 square meters (120 square feet) of space, and if I can live with just a few pieces of clothing (albeit a bit unhappily), we are certainly living with too much.

There is a lot of marketing noise about what to buy and how to live.

The worst I think, is the marketing of CLEAN.

These marketers would have you believe that you need anti-bacterial everythings, from towelettes to air fresheners just to live in this dirty, filthy world.

So why are all of the kids these days popping up with more and more allergies to everything under the sun?

Maybe it’s because we were ill-informed as to what an allergy really was, but I have a sneaking suspicion we are too clean as a society.

We need special, disposable, anti-bacterial towelettes to wipe down counters now, not some plain ol’ soap and warm water, which is in my (and many medical professionals) opinions that it is still THE BEST way to clean something.

Think about it — you wipe a counter with a towelette, that anti-bacterial stuff dries on it, your kid puts a sandwich on the counter afterwards (because children can be little piglets, as I once was) and ends up eating the chemicals from that towelette.

I find the following unnecessary for my life:

  • Air fresheners — I do not need my home to smell like a basket of fruits exploded in a forest or that I am traipsing through a lavender field
  • Detergents — I don’t use it 99% of the time; a little hot/warm water and agitation is enough
  • Dryer sheets — My clothes aren’t full of static and I was once told that they use pig fat to give that nice, soft feeling
  • Body washes — They really dry out my skin (I have eczema), so I use little shampoo if need be
  • Antibacterial sanitizers — Kills 99.9% of germs, but not all germs are bad for you
  • Cleaning agents — White vinegar, soap and warm water pretty much cures everything that ails
  • Most face things — Under eye & wrinkle creams, I am a realist who doesn’t believe that stuff works
  • A bed — I tried sleeping in a bed and felt uncomfortably high off the ground; I much prefer a Japanese futon
  • Boxed and canned foods — It’s a luxury to be able to buy fresh food, let alone organic stuff
It’s kind of weird. I don’t buy ‘normal’ things that most North Americans buy, but I have electronic equipment up the wazoo.

WHAT DON’T YOU NEED IN YOUR LIFE?


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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7 Comments

  1. M
    MelD

    Most of the things you list aren’t in my house. I use a tiny amount of detergent, far far less than recommended and it’s fine (the abrasive action helps keep the tubes clear, as I had some trouble with liquid detergent and smelly washing machine). I use the same basic cleaning agents as you. I have a bed. None of the rest. I dislike synthetic perfumes and prefer to open my windows to air my home (5-10 mins morning and evening in winter, and in the bathroom). Or I cook or bake something good! I buy fresh food and don’t store or stockpile, though I do have a very small freezer for a few items in reserve. My cosmetics and care routine are very basic, I rarely even use toothpaste and nobody complains! I prefer talcum powder to deodorant, too, which I find itchy. Since I switched to Mac, electronics have been vastly simplified and laptop, iPad and iPhone more than cover my needs (the iPad was a present and sometimes it’s useful!). I got rid of watches, clocks, TVs, calculators, photo and video cameras, calendars, DVD players and VCRs, sound systems, phones, answering machines, maps, barometers (!), torches and other gadgets, also in my kitchen. I do use a kettle, small microwave (mainly for steaming veg) and one small kitchen mixing machine. Only my husband drinks coffee so he does have the smallest Nespresso machine (another present) on the counter. There is so much we don’t have – and don’t need!!
    The iPad covers magazines, which I used to keep loads of, but I do have my books because I love them and have room for them. I get rid of many more than I used to. However, I read a lot on iPad and iPhone, now, too.

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      I forgot about toothpaste and mouth wash. I rarely use toothpaste too, I use baking soda (toothpaste dries my mouth out) and I am about to try oil pulling with coconut oil.
      We don’t have any kind of console either. Our DVDs go into our laptops.

      Reply
  2. Cassie

    I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum with the electronics, and detergent is a necessity for me because I come home from work covered in oil, dirt and transmission fluid. I do think I probably wear my non-work clothes more than the average North American person does before washing them though, and I’m light on the detergent when I do clean them. If they’re not dirty there isn’t much point. I don’t need pre-made meals in my freezer, pre-portioned seasoning mixes, canned soup, or basically anything but whole foods I can turn into a meal myself. Aerosol room sprays scare me and I have the urge to leave the room I’m in when I smell them.

    I’m finding that resisting the urge to buy things is becoming easier and easier the more I learn about marketing. If I can tell which sales tactic they’re using (sex, fear, etc…) the ad is pretty much lost on me.

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      The strong perfume smell really turns me off, gives me a headache.

      As for your job it is natural you need more detergent than jobs that don’t have a lot of grease!!

      Reply
  3. t
    tomatoketchup

    I haven’t had a bookcase in years. Seems like one of those things that people instinctively buy any time they move to a new place. If I want to read a certain book, I grab it out of a box in the closet and put it back when I’m done. I’ve almost stopped buying books entirely now that I live within walking distance to the library. It’s nice having the extra space and one less piece of furniture to dust.

    Out of curiosity, what brand of socks do you travel with? Over the years, I’ve accumulated some good quality travel clothes that dry very quickly, but haven’t had much luck finding comfortable socks that will completely air dry overnight.

    Reply
    1. M
      Mochi & Macarons

      I am the same way although my library is my iPad. I don’t stay in a city long enough to get acquainted with the library.
      I wear thick hiking boots by Asolo and to have them be comfortable I wear thick winter socks by Wigwam.
      Some countries vary — socks dry quickly in drier climates and less so in more humid ones.
      There is a brand out there that has travel socks that dry quickly and over night!!

      Reply

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