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I’m from a suburban town in Maryland, and I’ve been living in Europe– first France, now Spain– for almost 4 years now. I wasn’t raised in a McMansion but definitely in a green lawn suburb, where the pantry overflowed with prepackaged foods and bottled waters.
Our central air was always freezing in summer, and I drove pretty much everywhere, including to the gym, where I would sit on a stationary bike. And when I moved into my apartment in a medium-sized city, takeout was a frequent reality, as was meeting at bars instead of people’s houses. I know all these things are common, if not universal, for most people I know from America. Or at least those who grew up middle to upper-middle class. And I think we can all agree that we could stand to cut back on some of the things that we think we need.
I feel like we don’t often question our way of life, or realize just how often we deem things necessities when they’re actually luxuries. And, for me, that mentality really changed when I started living in Europe and confronting my lifestyles. It’s been amazing for my finances and overall happiness to let go of things I realized I don’t need, or treat them like the luxuries they actually are.
Since moving overseas, here are the seven biggest things that I realized I no longer need.
Number 1, everyday professional makeup. When I lived in America, like many women, I wasn’t necessarily on the Instagram contouring level of flawless makeup, but I definitely did the full routine every day– foundation, mascara, bronzer, lipstick, eye shadow, et cetera– and I felt like I couldn’t be taken seriously or feel beautiful if I didn’t. When I first moved to Europe, it took me a while to get used to being a more natural version of myself and pare down my morning routine to something more manageable.
My daily routine is now just mascara, lipstick, and out the door. And I feel so much more comfortable in my skin. Instead of just feeling beautiful when I’m dolled up and ugly when I’m not, I feel like myself at all times– imperfect but lovely.
Number 2, air conditioning. Here in Spain, it gets hot as hell, yet I get along just fine without AC. I don’t melt, I don’t get heat stroke, and I am very much used to the feeling of being hot in the summer. The thing is, once you accept that this is just what summer feels like, you come to embrace it in its own way and don’t mind it the way you used to. My summers are no longer a desperate search for AC because I’ve tweaked my understanding of normal.
Number 3, meat with every meal. Like many Americans, I used to think that meat was the center of my meal, around which the rest of the dish would turn. But now I’ve shifted to a more balanced diet, with meals focused on vegetables, grains, and starches. Meat is a more treasured treat. I’m not vegetarian or vegan, but I probably eat meat about four times a week now. That means I buy higher-quality meat in smaller quantities. I love stopping by the butcher to grab whatever looks good that day and make myself a special dinner with it. It’s much better for my waistline and my wallet.
Number 4, recipe-based shopping. This is probably cliche to say but living here has gotten me into cooking in a way I never was in America. I now think in terms of ingredients rather than finished foods. I look at my cabinet and see what I already have components for. And then I go to the grocery store or market and look for items on sale that I can get a ton of use out of.
In America, on the other hand, I would look up a recipe first and shop for it specifically, often throwing out some of the ingredients after only a week. But my new start-from-scratch way of thinking means I treat my kitchen as something to be emptied before it’s refilled.
Number 5, a car. Now I don’t live in the center of a city, and my most common form of transport is a bus, which could have easily been the case when I lived back in suburban Maryland. But when I was there, the solution of car to get everywhere was just the obvious one, and I thought it would be weird or sad to actually take the bus or bike everywhere. Now I generally do a combination of the two depending on the weather. This means I save an enormous amount of money every month on the expenses of owning a car. And I also have cut out my gym membership budget because my exercise comes from biking and walking a ton every day. Not owning a car is a completely possible choice in many places, but it’s one I didn’t consider making until I moved here.
Number 6, a future house.
Probably the biggest mental shift for me has gone from seeing a house with a yard in the suburbs as the ultimate goal of adult property ownership living situation to a wasteful thing.
First of all, lawns are bad for the environment, and commutes are bad for mental health. But, beyond that, a house is more space than I need, and I’m more than happy living in my current situation, which is a duplex with a little garden. It’s why I moved to this outskirts in the first place. But, living here, I’ve realized that the trade-off of not having all the space or property I don’t use means that I’m a quick jaunt from museums, culture, and the vibrancy of the city.
Since I moved to Europe, I’ve realized my goal is ultimately to have just what I need, and to especially not create a huge commute in my life simply to have a giant green patch of land I claim as my own. It may be the American way for everyone I grew up with, but, as with everything else on this list, it’s not that way for me anymore.
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