Learning to live more with less

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The average monthly salary in Zadar, the coastal Croatian town we’ve been spending a year abroad, is just under 5,000 kunas after taxes, or about $823 dollars.

That might help explain why shopping culture is so different here. For the most part, people seem to shop for their needs rather than their wants.

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That’s been apparent to me especially this week. We’re starting to let go of the extra things we’ve accumulated – bicycles, umbrellas, clothes and European appliances – as we prepare to move back home in a few weeks.

I listed items on the Croatian equivalent of Craigslist, and people have been stopping by to get good deals on items we’ve barely used. I’ve met a nurse, a university student, a fisherman’s daughter and a dozen others. One woman wanted to buy a sweater for her son to wear to his First Communion. Another wanted a bike to get to work. Most of the buyers spoke enough English to ask how I’ve liked living in their country. They seemed proud and almost surprised when I told them how I’ve fallen in love with Croatia.

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One of the things I like about living here is people don’t like to waste things. They fill tiny plots of land with gardens. They share their homes with multiple generations of relatives. They reuse plastic bottles to refill with homemade wine or olive oil.

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There are malls and supermarkets, at smaller scale than what’s available in America. Aside from the very wealthy with their yachts and vacation homes, the biggest extravagance I’ve seen here are well-heeled women showing off their designer clothing and pushing luxury baby strollers along the cobbled streets of Old Town, just to be seen.

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Most people I’ve met here would prefer a low-key lifestyle. They like to buy their groceries fresh daily from the open-air market, their bread from the corner bakery and their coffee or pivo at the neighborhood café. Maybe it’s the lingering influence of Socialism, but they don’t seem as caught up with “things.” There aren’t even many thrift shops or secondhand stores. There aren’t yard sales, Dollar Stores or warehouse superstores.

Shopping in Croatia reminds me of the “Rub-a-dub-dub” nursery rhyme. There’s still a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker. And they’re probably not all in the same store.

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Living here has curbed some of my impulse buying and my Amazon.com addiction. Our apartment doesn’t even have a house number on it or a mailbox.

There are some things we just can’t get here. I talked my mother-in-law into bringing me Playtex tampons when she came to visit. My mom brought the largest-size bottle of Ibuprofen she could find. The kids talked our visitors into stocking them up with American candy.

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I know the boys are ready to get back home, and not just for the candy. I saw my 10-year-old’s calendar today. He wrote “finally” next to March. It’s starting to feel like we ran away and are getting sucked back into reality.

I hope one lesson here sinks in for all of us – how to live more with less.