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Living a Minimalist Life in Ghana

Filling up a garbage can with water may seem like a strange thing to do, but when you do not have running water it is the best way to minimize your trips to fetch it. The can lid acts as a wonderful barrier to ward off mosquitos who love to lay their eggs on the surface of water. Plus, I’ve learned to carry a five-gallon bucket on my head, a valuable skill.

Most of us, myself included, live in great excess. A shower uses about seven gallons of water per minute which adds up to a staggering 70 gallons for just a 10-minute shower. We also excessively waste food. The average American throws away nearly half of the food they purchase.

For a little over a year now, I have been living a meaningful life with less stuff. Of course, I did have a few months of over indulgence when I first returned to the states from Ghana, but now that I am back in Africa, my minimalist life has returned.

Things I have learned to live without:

minimalist living in africaRunning water– My kind neighbors have offered me their shower and toilet which is connected to running water, but on a daily basis I fetch the bulk of the water I use (or someone fetches it for me.) The majority of people that I live with take bucket showers and use less than half of a five-gallon bucket to bathe. I actually find it quite nice bathing from a bucket especially on cooler nights where the idea of showering in ice cold water is daunting. I boil a few gallons of water on my stove, let it cool a bit and take a lovely warm bath. It is a luxury! We also put buckets out during rain showers to collect water for later use. During the showers I often see children running outside, sudsing up to bath in the fresh rain.

Unlimited electricity
– Here in Ghana we experience frequent blackouts, which on an extremely hot night can be an absolute horror (my fan is my best friend), but otherwise I have learned to not only cope, but to enjoy the silence and wonder that it brings. I’ve become accustomed to always making sure my headlamp, computer and phone are charged because we lose power a few hours every other day (on average). I have a stockpile of candles to light in the evening, and there is nothing more soothing than the glow of a candle flame. If the night is uncomfortably hot, I put on my long pants and cover myself in mosquito repellent, throw a blanket on the dirt path in front of my home and bask in the glory of a powerless African star-filled sky.

 I am going to make a vow (and try to stick to it) to not text very much when I get back to the U.S. You gain so much when you pick up the phone to make a call, rather than text. It is easy to misinterpret the voice someone is trying to convey via text. This causes major miscommunications. I strongly believe that verbal communication is one of the main keys to healthy relationships and one of mankind’s greatest assets.

Dairy- Okay, this is a real weakness for me and I actually cannot say that I am happily living without cheese but nonetheless, I am living without it. I patiently wait for the next time I will be able to indulge in sharp cheddar and red bean Triscuits. We all have our weaknesses. I choose to embrace mine.

minimalist living - drying clothes in the sun ghanaWasher, dryer and dishwasher- Yes, I do all of these by hand and while I may not enjoy scrubbing my own clothing, there is something that I love about drying my clothes in the sun. It just makes sense to use our natural resources. I feel like it is the suns way of saying, “thank you for choosing to use my light.”

To all of those things that I thought I needed- I miss you, but I’ve learned to live without you and I am stronger for that.

What could you do today to move towards a more minimalist way of  living?

  1. I loved reading this, Jackie! What a fabulous experience you’re having! When will you be home to visit? Would love to see you and your mom.

  2. Very admirable! You’re so right- we definitely live in excess. It would be great if we could all follow your example even if in moderation. Finding someway to tone down our dependence on all our modern technologies. As you’ve shown it’s definitely possible!

  3. I just got back from visiting my daughter at the end of her semester abroad in Dakar, Senegal. She’s home now, and adjusting to the excess of our lives here. Living in a budget and environmentally minded family, she’s already attuned to the differences between needing and wanting. Still, we have conveniences here I know she’s happy to return to: laundry and hot showers among them. The flip side of minimalist living in Dakar is a lack of infrastructure to adequately purify water, process garbage and minimize pollution. I’m sure it’s the same in Ghana. The eternal question is, how can these countries build the infrastructure they need without the help of wealthier nations? It’s not our role to come in like carpetbaggers and do it for them. And we obviously have valuable lessons to learn from their (necessarily) minimalist way of life. Thanks for a great post, and congratulations on being able to balance a water jug on your head. Impressive!

  4. This is beautiful actually! Especially the part about the sun saying thank you. I love that 🙂

    It is amazing how much we think we need that we don’t really at all. You don’t realize how unnecessary some things are until you go without it, and realize you don’t even miss it!

    To clarify I do think that there is a difference between poverty and minimalism…I’m sure that many would give anything to have some of the conveniences and securities that middle-class westerners do. But at the same time we could benefit a lot from learning to live happily with less.

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The Culture-ist