Living with less…

rustic-wall-decor-the important things in life

I was just browsing my Twitter feed and came across this glimpse into the psyche of fellow British expat Valerie Hammer,  7 Questions: Val from Great Britain | JetSettlers Magazine.

I smiled and nodded to myself as I read through the questions and her answers and commiserated with her on her limited choice of footwear in Korea, wondering if there was more to it than just flip-flops (or, thongs, for all you Aussies and Canucks)! When I got to question 7, I found that Valerie had put into words my exact feelings about my expat experience. She cited “learning to live and be happy with less” as her greatest benefit of becoming an expat.

Since we left Britain, we have had to live very differently to how we did at home. There’s the obvious, like having to put up with someone else’s colour scheme in a rented house (black and orange in the basement…who does that?). We had to live without a car for our first year because, as expats, affordable credit wasn’t available to us. Things you thought defined you, in however minuscule a way – your favourite brand of this or type of that – become extraneous when you can’t get hold of them anymore. We don’t have cable – we make do with DVD’s and downloads. I no longer absorb the news through background TV or radio, I now have to actively search it out – make time to sit down and read it, so I’m not so well-informed. Despite my best efforts this becomes glaringly obvious as soon as you get into a conversation with me, TV shows, celebrity life, in short pretty much the whole entertainment section is beyond my scope.

Yet somehow, my life is fuller than it ever was. My head is full of plans, trips to make – Algonquin Provincial Park, whale watching in Tadousac next year – articles to write, people to have round, places yet to visit. When you do without stuff for a while, eventually, you find you don’t actually WANT it back in your life. My mind and my life are less complicated, no longer cluttered with things that don’t really matter. It’s been pared down to the bone allowing the important things to come to the fore, like Valerie said: creating “space for people, creativity and self-development.”

Why the hell didn’t we do this earlier??!!!


Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. So true…people are important, not things..I learned this long ago..having left home at 16, I moved almost every six months from house and roommate to I was constantly abandoning things…it came down to two boxes only. My primary school box that had toys, clothes, weirdness from my early years that I had for some reason…and my secondary box that had clothes…more weirdness, misc pipes and paraphernalia ( haha). I knew better after that never to unpack those boxes..they stay permanently packed as they are currently until my new move..( its been 6 years since I’m here so I have come a long way from moving every six months). Now since the re org due to new baby, I have been erradicating our home of previously used, no longer used items..I can’t stand stuff….never could.

    1. I know what you mean. I left home at 17 and had my college as an address because I had no fixed 🙁 I sold all my stuff off at a car-boot sale. Stuff can come and go. Good friends are hard to come by. But the best ones endure, no matter where you are in the world.

  2. By the a ” Canuck” I never heard of or used the word “thong” to describe footwear…I was quite surprised one day when my boss told me not to wear thongs to work…..and I said…well…what business is it of yours what underwear I wear! So I never knew or used it to this day…nasty asty flip flop is their name for their nasty asty flip flop noise they make. ( I never wear them, only for the locker room shower ).

  3. Hello there. I am happy to read that my questions inspired this article. (A great read by the way.)

    It’s so true that clearing physical space opens up the corresponding amount in your head. I could never live from one suitcase – kudos to those who do, but I much prefer the simpler life.

    Now if only I could throw away the empty jar of marmite that I keep for emergency inhalation sessions ……

    1. LOL! I’m with you on that one Valerie, we have an empty Marmite jar for the same reason! You can get Marmite here, though the average Canadian co. isn’t sure how to classify it so it’s always difficult to find in the supermarket, but it is horrendously expensive compared to back home… As well as space I need order, so I can’t sit down to write unless the beds are made. The fewer things to keep organised the better.

      1. I think we are astral twins! I used to buy Vegemite when I lived in Tokyo. It was so much cheaper and similar enough to satisfy.

        Time for an order from the British Corner Shop website I think. 🙂

  4. Great post! It’s so true how you make different choices when the old standbys aren’t available. You will not wither and die just because you don’t know the latest hot tv shows, and it’s nice not using the tv as background noise. After months (years?), those boxes in the attic or basement that you never open really do just become stuff.

  5. I have found that moving every 2-3 years has also helped keep out the clutter. I’m always sorting stuff into pack, giveaway, and throw away. One of the few reasons I don’t mind moving so often. 😉

  6. You are oh so right!! I love what you have to say here regarding get up and live a life.Surrounding yourself with positive people creating beautiful memories requires an investment that keeps on giving. Unlike that Savings account that pays out only 2.5% interest here in Canada. You will absolutely love Algonquin Park! You may want to hold off until after Winter although beautiful,the driving snow can have you feeling like your caught in a snow globe being manipulated by a two old. As for Marmite most international food sections in the larger Grocery chains carry it even out here in the sticks. I love to enhance my gravy or give a good massage to Sundays Roast with it something past on to me from my British roots. I can’t say I have eaten enough of it to be running through the courses of my veins. But give it a try dare to take a risk, do something new enjoy the little things. View your day through the eyes of a child the wonderment of the first time experiencing the little things.

    1. Thank you Kathy, I’m glad you stopped by – and by the way, I can see from your outlook why you are so good at what you do! Good point about the Savings accounts here – I should have mentioned that in my Banking post. There is no motivation to save with rates like that, you’re better off shoving it under the mattress, at least you won’t get charged, (a) for keeping it there, and (b) for getting it out again!
      Now at least I know where to come if they’re out of stock of Marmite at the store! 😉

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