Andie Mitchell, with a baby goat, that was born into the household where Andie was living in Nepal with the Peace Corps.
I've enjoyed watching Andie Mitchell grow from a girl into a young woman because her mom and I ran a scout troop. And way before most make life-shaping decisions, I saw Andie take a stand on avoiding animal consumption and creating a small monetary footprint versus a larger one; so when she chose to join the Peace Corps, I knew I needed to ask her some good questions on "Living Small with Poverty Awareness."
1. What have you seen correspond in your lifestyle choices with the way most people live in this world--small with poverty?
I think actively choosing not to participate in a consumerist culture is a big thing... but that has many aspects. I don't think I'm particularly radical in my lifestyle; I'm inspired by zero-waste activists, people who don't buy/throw away anything. I don't buy useless things, I don't think, but I still participate by living in this society. You have to try really hard not to participate (i.e., buying food). It is much easier here in the US to buy food with plastic wrappings and then throw them away. Subverting that system takes a lot of thought. Many people worldwide don't have the resources to over-consume, so they don't have the choice.
2. Do you see this trait in your millennial generation? In what ways YES, and in what ways NO?
This also differs wildly depending on the place of origin... overall, yes, I think millennials live within their means because they have to, however small that is. People coming from poverty generally want to rise out of it, though; that almost always means consuming more. I come from immense privilege, so even though I choose to have a profession and a lifestyle that generally has a small footprint, I've still used more resources than someone my age in Nepal would likely use in their entire lifetime (i.e., the carbon footprint I have from traveling on planes around the world. No amount of farming and composting can make up for that.)
3. What are some of the blessings you see in living this way, small but with poverty awareness? Also, what have been some of your greatest challenges from this lifestyle?
Blessings--A greater connection to the Earth and natural systems. When you are more reliant on your body and your own environment for your sustenance, you become naturally attuned to the rhythms and rules of the earth, and I think you live in harmony with the planet instead of being a leech. It helps emotionally and mentally too to be in nature and paying attention to the earth, which is how it tells me it's the right thing to do.
I have very few challenges in the U.S. because I am so privileged and have so many resources. I guess my biggest challenge here in the US would be resisting unnecessary over-consumption and having to deal with making enough money to live/support myself. Capitalism is necessary here, generally. You have to play the game.
In Nepal, challenges were having to go outside to use the outhouse whenever I had to pee. Having no refrigeration is difficult for sanitation and means much more time spent cooking every meal. Cooking only over a wood stove indoors is bad for health and takes much longer than our cooking method. Bathing and washing with cold water was a challenge for me. When it takes a lot of time and resources to heat water just for comfort, most people don't do it. But in the US, having hot showers isn't even a thought.
Hauling water and water access is also huge. When you have to walk up a hill multiple times a day to carry buckets for your family's water for the day, you use it differently. It is a challenge that we don't have to think about with plumbing and running water.
4. Living smaller should be better for our planet. In what ways have you seen this?
I mean, it IS better. Throwing stuff away and using electricity and finite resources is killing the planet. We can't get it back. This computer I'm typing on uses rare earth metals that were mined from the earth and constantly burns carbon to keep running, and then will eventually be disposed of....etc. Etc. It would be better if we didn't have the option or perceived necessity of consuming such things in the first place.
5. Prior to the corona-virus, you were in the Peace Corps. In what developing countries were you stationed and what did you learn?
I was in Nepal. I'm answering all these questions with that background. I learned, again, how privileged I am to even be able to choose to live there. It doesn't work the other way around- my Nepali family can't choose to come work in the US for two years. I learned that living without comforts like running water, electricity, heating, and plumbing is not as scary as I thought. You get used to lifestyle changes like that really easily- we shouldn't be so scared of drastically changing our way of life.
6. Andie, what advice would you give to those of us without your experience on how to better live our lives in smaller ways with more compassion for the poor?
Always be grateful for what you have, and continue to work on skills that would be useful if your resources disappeared. I take comfort knowing that I can grow my own food, keep myself warm, and live very simply if I need to. Even if people seem to have "less" than you materially, they probably have many invisible skills that you don't have. Try to cultivate those sorts of skills.
7. Is there anything else that I should know or ask that you'd like to share?
Overall, I think it is tough to compare modern U.S. Americans trying to live in a 'smaller' way to someone in poverty in a developing country. Even the US's poorest people have much more than the average person in Nepal. It's tough to answer these questions without thinking about different contexts. Everyone's lifestyle depends on where they live, where they come from, and what they have access to.
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Proverbs 4:7 “The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding."
Thank you, Andie, for helping us better understand.
Martha Wild King, M.Ed., Author
The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.