Keeping things simple


File picture of lady collecting rainwater for her personal use.

For the past three years, I have adopted a frugal lifestyle, trying to use as little resource as possible to get by, from basic conventional ideas like turning down plastic bags and buying fewer material things, right down to taking 'army showers' to conserve energy and water, and challenging myself in the restroom to use as fewest pieces of toilet paper as possible (which, I might add, requires a degree of creativity). And if I break something, I try my best to fix it.

All this began with meeting one of my first housemates, Joona from Finland.

A bright-eyed young lad who worked during the day as an organic chef, he inspired me with his pure intentions. He never bought stuff unless he knew that he couldn't make it himself. There was the water installation he crafted from scratch in his bedroom, or the bicycle seat he replaced a piece of wood he found by the roadside.

He stole my avocados to make body scrub for me to try out, and fed me lumps of molasses to cure my headaches. What struck me most about Joona was that he was always beaming, even on his down days.

For a simple man with simple needs, his glass was always half full, and his philosophy of 'take only what you need' was adopted as the foundation of my own sustainable lifestyle.

I managed to experience simple living in Myanmar where I worked as a newscaster for four months in late 2010.

Re-locating from Kuala Lumpur to the middle of an isolated stretch of grassland in Naypyidaw, my unique work took me to places and people that few tourists would have had the opportunity to encounter.

Wherever I went, a delicate sense of contentment was the status quo.

The landscape was pristine, and most people were dirt-poor yet so generous in heart and spirit that I had to take back my prior belief that such greatness only existed in theory; my life-changing stint there will be the source of more stories to come in this column.

The main point of that mention was the hurtling of my new rustic soul back to Malaysian soil. Suddenly, the city that I called home felt foreign and at some points terrifying.

Road bullying gave me palpitations, I plastered myself to the wall at parties I attended for the sake of being seen, and the Great Malaysian Sale, the closest I have ever come to being in a man's shoes, made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

Then came the day that I decided to buy toothpaste. I walked into the grocery store and made a beeline for the toothpaste aisle. I stood there trying to figure out which was the best product... so many promises of polish, care and protection.

I crouched down, picked up things, but them back, stood back up.

This carried on for a solid twenty minutes. Finally, and with much hesitance, I picked a random tube but continued to look back at the aisle even from the pay counter.

Was I robbing myself of a good opportunity of buying the best toothpaste there was for me? Had I made the right choice – 24 hours of antibacterial action over Super Calcium Boost? I felt exasperated, sad and... regretful. Good grief! Making a life-or-death situation out of a relatively non-consequential 2-month supply of mouth-cleaning agent?

What had come over me?!

That was the day that I realized that living in a state of 'enoughness' will be a constant struggle in a consumer-driven environment.

Companies striving to stand out of the disorder to catch your attention, offering an over-abundance of options to live out a trendy and comfortable life. And while we pursue this desire to live out this trendy and comfortable life, the road to happiness starts to feel so long that it feels like chasing a mirage.

Would I be so daring to say that right now in this moment, after shutting out the noise of gadgets, gimmicks and guarantees, every single one of us already has all we need?

My frugality sometimes gets misinterpreted as miserliness.

I can't say that I am not the thriftiest person you will meet, but in the grander scheme of things it is my attempt to keep tabs on the things that truly count and my sources of happiness within easy reach.

Since that silly toothpaste episode, there have been mornings or nights where I have forgotten to brush my teeth altogether, and admitted to myself that I was still having an awesome day.

My ability to smile often, one day toothless or otherwise, is one of my most prized assets. And that sure is enough for me.

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