redefining living simply

Quiz time!

Who has more possessions? A family of five Americans living in America? Or a family of five Americans living in a village in Cambodia?

(yes, this is a trick question)

You might know that I have a teensy tiny obsession with purging, with having just what we need and not a stitch of anything more.

A few years ago, we lived in a 1400 square foot house, and some of you skeptically (and some enthusiastically) followed along on our journey to get rid of every single thing we could live without (which was A LOT).

Then, at the end of 2013, we moved into a 797 square foot apartment. And we reeeeally had to scale down even more. We sold a BUNCH of furniture and tons of other stuff, and it was lovely.

The girls all shared a tiny bedroom (2 bunk beds and a twin), we all shared one little bathroom. We had a little kitchen, and our table pretty much took up our entire dining room.

We had very little storage space, so we only kept pretty much what we use on a daily basis. And we didn’t have “extras” of anything.

I loved that.

Then we decided to move to Cambodia.

And we sold/gave away whatever wouldn’t fit in 6 suitcases and 5 carry-ons.

And we officially owned the least amount of possessions we’ve ever owned in our 17 years of marriage.

This is what we brought to Cambodia: books, clothes, shoes, maps, banners, special keepsakes, journals, Bibles, all our techy stuff, enough meds and toiletries to last for a little while, and that’s pretty much it.

Two weeks after we moved to Cambodia, we moved into an 1100 square foot apartment. It was already furnished (yay!). Two bedrooms, two king-sized beds (the girls shared one bed for a year), two wardrobes, a kitchen table/chairs, a folding table/chairs on the balcony, a wicker couch, 2 wicker chairs, an end table, and a washing machine.

Over the course of a year we bought 2 papasan chairs, 3 fold-out mats, 4 standing fans, 2 bookshelves, a bike, and a moto. And lots of kitchen stuff and some storage containers.

On January 16, we moved to Siem Reap, Cambodia. To a house on a dirt road in a village. It’s a BIG house. I don’t know square footage, but downstairs is a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. Upstairs: two more bedrooms, two itty-bitty bathrooms (in the bedrooms), and a huge open area (kind of like a bonus room).

The house is old and a lot of things are broken, but it has a lot of potential. (Now, if I could just find a spare minute and the tiniest bit of motivation to clean it/keep it clean.)

And in the almost-month we’ve lived here? WE HAVE BOUGHT A TON OF CRAP.

Okay, so maybe it’s not crap, but it feels like sooooo much stuff.

When we got here, there were three (really old) beds (a little smaller than a double) with one very thin mattress and two (kind of) twin-sized mattresses (with no matching beds).

We bought two sets of bunk beds for the girls (after promising them for a year that they wouldn’t have to sleep in one bed forever). And lots of wicker bookshelves for storage (neither of the upstairs rooms have closets, and the girls actually opted to sleep out in the bonus room area).

We bought tons of storage baskets and oodles of cleaning supplies (this place was FILTHY when we got here and some of it still is honestly). We bought a two-burner stovetop, a washing machine, laundry baskets, trash cans, two bikes, a round metal table, plastic chairs, mosquito rackets, mosquito nets, a refrigerator, mats to eat on, and a queenish-sized mattress for me and Gabe (we’re just going to sleep on the floor).

(Where are we getting all this money?? Well, we–thank you, Jesus!–get to live in this house RENT FREE for 10 months AND we live where we work, so we’re saving $10-$15 a day on tuk-tuks. And some very generous people bought us our washing machine.)

And here’s the thing. Because we have all this space and because of what we do and because we live in a city that’s a tourist destination (we’re 3km from Angkor Wat), and because there will always be a steady stream of visitors/helpers from Phnom Penh, we need to make this place guest-friendly.

We’ve already had three overnight guests, and next week? On Tuesday, four guys are coming to help us prepare for our Grand Opening (and staying with us). On Thursday, at least 5 and maybe 10 more people are coming to stay for two nights.

Which means…

We need enough towels, enough pillows, enough beds/mats, enough sheets/blankets, enough soap/shampoo/toilet paper, enough food to go around.

We also bought another set of bunk beds and another mattress for one of the bare beds (which actually is too big to fit, so someone can use it on the floor).

Bottom line: I have to let go of my definition of simple: HARDLY ANY STUFF and embrace a new one: A MODEST BUT WELCOMING HOME THAT CAN EASILY ACCOMMODATE MANY GUESTS.

(I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.)

(This is really good for me.)

(And I actually love being able to extend hospitality. I’m an introvert, so it stretches me, but it also makes me really happy to share our home and lives with people.)

There are two more glitches in my Living Simply Plan.

1.) We are now running a center for kiddos. And we have to stock it with supplies. It won’t do to have just one of this and two of that. We need enough books, toys, games, supplies to give each child the best possible chance to learn, live, grow, and flourish.

Lots. Of. Stuff.

2.) We live in a place where many of the things we need (okay, mostly just want) are not available to us. People have to bring them to us (or we can get them every two years when we visit the States).

So, no more buying one box of tampons at a time (we can actually buy those here, but they cost a million dollars). We have to find a way to save up and make things stretch without hoarding and having excess.

(EDIT: Ha! I’ve had four sweet people comment/message me about the diva cup. I HAVE ONE. I LOVE IT. (I’m just not forcing the girls to try it, because they are taking baby steps from pads to tampons to yes, someday a diva cup probably. I should’ve used a different example. Like granola bars. Or contact solution.)

Those are my thoughts.

I basically just had some swirling ideas in my head and am trying to make peace with all of this and started to write about it (again) in my journal and then thought, “What if someone else cares about this?”

(I honestly do not know if even one person will care about this.)

So I wrote this post.

It is random. And probably very jerky (not as in I’m a jerk, but as in it is not a smooth read).

Here is what I need to know: Do you have any advice for me? Any encouragement? Any empathy?

THANK YOU in advance.

p.s. Once things settle down (ha ha ha ha ha!), I have big plans to do one of my famous RUTHLESS PURGES and give away bags and bags of stuff to our neighbors. I’ll let you know how it goes.

25 thoughts on “redefining living simply

  1. Shannon McMahon

    I just found your blog from the Art of Simple website, and I have to say that you took the words right out of my mouth. My husband, our three kids and myself just moved to a border town between Thailand and Burma to work with a non-profit that helps families strengthen families through education and employment (as in, a way to combat sex trafficking by helping to keep families from the desperate situations that lead to trafficking). Before we came, I discovered minimalist websites which helped us to downsize for the move and even helped us to be able to choose a smaller house once we arrived. However, the perfectionist that I am, I have to constant remind myself that people are more important than principles. I never want to go back being a pack rat, but I also want to have enough to be hospitable. It is such a quandry because I see what our neighbors live with, and by comparison, we live in abundant luxury, but then we have people over and we barely have enough plates and utensils for everyone. I don’t have any answers, but I just wanted to let you know that there are others in the same boat. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Krysten

    Oh, friend. I love this. Not because it’s more stuff or less stuff or diva cups or not (literally JUST had a conversation about the diva cup with co-workers this morning! Ha!) but because of the heart-stretching that is happening. God has you right where He wants you, riding the waves of these big huge dreams that only He could have possibly made happen. Uncomfortable or not, you’re going where those waves take you and allowing Him to stretch you in whatever direction necessary. Beautiful.

  3. Brooke

    You just described my life. Only in TN and with a hot tub. I own more towels than any 2 person family should. But.
    Hospitality.
    It’s a God thing. And He will bless you for it. <3

  4. Sarah Farish

    Here’s what I keep thinking…and this won’t be advice, just a thought:) There really is no “one size fits all” to any principle. I remember when you downsized…I looked around and felt horrible for all the stuff I had. Then I wanted to purge, which was good. And now you need the extra for an awesome purpose. So in one season…nothing. In another season…lots. But you’re still the same you with the same call. it just reminded me to always look to Jesus and ask Him what he desires of ME, not what I think he might desire because I am watching someone else’s life and thinking I should do what they do:) What may be good for one, might not be good for another because God has different plans. And while this might sound kinda elementary, it reminds me to stop looking around and comparing and judging. And this had nothing to do with your post, exactly, but it’s what I learned from it:) LOVE YOU!

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thank you, sweet friend. I’m not comparing and judging (that I know of–Jesus, search my heart), but I DID get in a comfortable spot of having less and don’t want to budge from that. So, I’m letting a principle be more important than people which is not okay. LOVE YOU TOO!!

      1. Sarah

        Oh heavens. I don’t think you’re judging in the least bit. I think I was/ am:). And I had to google diva cup. Never heard of it;)

  5. Tina

    Oh goodness! My family is exactly where you are! Well, not exactly. We still live in America, and we’re downsizing. But our end goal is one and the same. Minimal, no extra, only have what we use and will need for guests. We are getting rid of our guest bed and will put a fold out couch in there as we really only have one person stay in our home at one time. However, the most important thing to me is that our home is comforting, a place of rest (which means no clutter and as clean as can be), and somewhere friends and family can come where they feel God’s love and comfort. Praying for your heart and for your family as you all adjust. 💝💝💝

  6. Allison

    As far as having things to give others, including hospitality Irma, think of those not as yours but as already belonging to others, and you’re just giving them temporary storage. YOUR things can still be minimal. Also, if some of YOUR things help make your life a bit simpler, thereby freeing more time and energy to give to your work, it’s Good Stuff, yes?

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      I use a Diva cup (and love it), but the girls aren’t up for it. And ewwww to pads!

      Funny, we were leaving the center in Phnom Penh and my friend/nurse gave us two huge ziploc bags of probably 250 tampons. Someone had donated them, but most Cambodians don’t use them. We’re set for quite awhile.

    2. Stephanie

      I was going to suggest the same thing. If you can drink your water after boiling it, that’s enough. If your girls can use tampons, they can use cups.

  7. Sue Oda

    Hi Marla, it is always fun and enlightening to read your blog posts. I think it is the desire of many of us to live more simply , so we identified with you when you started to purge. When we moved to Troy, we got rid of a lot of “things” and have gotten along fine without them. My view of living simply depends on where you live and how you live. By that I mean, I live in the US and it may seem like I have a lot of things compared to my granddaughter who lives in Uganda, but I live a different lifestyle than she does. We have friends, family, church members and even strangers in our home. We have an extra bedroom for anyone who needs a place to stay and just enough linens for us and the extra bedroom (just an example). God has really impressed on me not to buy more than I need and use. I have very little to clean and I don’t “covet” more. It may seem like a lot to some, but we really live quite simply. So, I said all that to say: your situation, the people you minister to, and the people you host in your home contribute to the “live simply” ideal. Your goal is to minister—if that means you have to have more “things” to do that, so be it!!! I hope this makes some sense😍

  8. Alicia

    So, here are my thoughts. I’m pretty much just typing as I think, so this won’t be a polished comment. Sorry. All of those things that you keep accumulating – they are for God’s glory! He pulled you out of your comfort zone in order to get you to work His purposes and allow you to grow closer to him and now that you are more comfortable living simply and having less stuff, maybe He is using it again, for His purposes and to allow you to grow closer to Him. Also, all of that stuff will allow you to totally bless the socks off of visitors and new friends and God will use it (and you guys, especially you guys) to make Himself known and to bring the lost home. The amount of stuff, or the lack of stuff, is inconsequential. He’s provided before and He’s not going to stop now. How God directs you (in regards to the stuff) is what matters. I love reading your posts and living quasi-vicariously through you. Oh, also – boxes of tampons? Two words – Diva Cup. But we can discuss that not on a public forum. 🙂

  9. Amy

    I TOTALLY agree and relate. My friend Julie says being a missionary can turn you into a hoarder. Because when you see American (orange) sweet potatoes for the first time in two years, you buy every bag they have and bring them home! (Or sour cream, or Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, etc….) Or you beg American visitors to bring you things like lots and lots of Skittles and Graham Crackers and stick deodorant (that doesn’t cost a fortune).
    Plus there IS that constant battle between not wanting to get back into having so many THINGS and also wanting to have a warm, welcoming home for my family and all the visitors. It is a juggling act. For me anyway. So, you are definitely not alone! We have just been talking about another ‘purge’ around here!

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