Thursday, July 30, 2020

What I Learned About Homemaking Living Abroad ~ Part 1


"As cold waters to a thirsty soul,
so is good news from a far country."
~ Proverbs 25:25


Living for several years in a small foreign country with a struggling economy taught me many lessons about homemaking. Since moving back to the State's, I realize how my thought process has changed in many areas. Here is a list of 12 random, home-related things I gleaned while living abroad (and in no particular order)...


1. New Isn't Necessarily Better

This particular lesson shines in the subject of furniture. Most of the newer pieces sold in affordable stores are made up of particle board or MDF. Furniture made up of these compounds tend to wear down quicker due to the elements (were more susceptible to mold where we lived) and began to come apart with frequent moving. Plus, they can't withstand heavy loads and began to bow even though they are quite heavy themselves. I have also since learned that products made with particle board and MDF emits formaldehyde into the home - the very place you nurture to be a safe haven!


Furniture made with solid wood can be passed down to generations and is long lasting. Because of this, the locals would rather buy used furniture from auctions or estate sales rather than purchase from big box stores. The quality is what they were looking for. Money is scarce and long term use is most important. They want something they can pass down to their children as furniture is considered a family legacy. 


Older wood furniture pieces have amazing bones. Most often they are very beautiful while boasting intricate carvings, ornate hardware and oftentimes glorious beveled glass! A helpful test to see if the quality of used (or new) furniture is good (besides the overall shape and appearance) is to look at the drawers. Is there dovetailing on the sides (this looks like a tongue-in-groove puzzle where the two sides of the drawers meet)? This shows quality craftsmanship. 


When re-establishing our home, we opted to buy all used furniture (and to be honest, the budget also dictated this!). There was no way we could afford brand new solid wood furniture to last us a lifetime but thrift shops and Craig's List (and family members who were cleaning out storage units!) provided many affordable options for us that we also found visually appealing. Here in America I was amazed at the prices of solid furniture at Salvation Army Stores, Goodwills and Re-Stores. My foreign friends would be in shock at the vast assortment and budget friendly options!


If you are thinking about replacing your old but solid wood furniture, you may want to consider re-staining it, re-painting it, replacing the hardware to better suit your style or re-upholstering it as what you have is probably excellent and will be cherished in the years to come! I personally love the painted white look so any sturdy frame is fair game for our home making it less challenging to frugally furnish.


2. Repair When Possible

When something would break on our neighbor's farm or home, the first reaction would always be "repair". To purchase brand new was almost un-thinkable. If you remember the picture of the kitchen strainer I broke a few years back, my hubby fixed it with a piece of wire (this is the mentality of a non-consumer society). Handcrafted repairs reigned in the homes. Obviously, replacing broken parts from the manufacturer and so forth was routine. Knowing a good mechanic and repairman was gold. Everything that can be fixed was fixed until it couldn't be.

My Bosch mixer gave up the ghost while living out of the country. There were no retail stores even slightly nearby nor online shopping like we know in North America. Hubby took a look at it and it seemed like the transmission was the culprit. What to do? This was not an inexpensive part. We had to really weigh out the pros and cons (how old was the machine, was there a lot of life left, how much to buy brand new and have it imported, etc.). I used that machine daily to shred, blend, knead and slice. Perhaps in the old days I would have just replaced it. But at the time every penny counted. We decided to replace the part ourselves and hope we had troubleshooted accurately. And glory hallelujah it worked! We spend $150 instead of $500.  

Here in America there is Amazon which delivers right to the door. There was no such thing where we lived. But what a convenience it is to simply type in a model number and find the parts and have them delivered the very next day! I do hope you take advantage of this possibility in your household.


3. Buy Good, Cry Once

When our neighbors finally had to replace something in their home or homestead, we were shocked to find that they purchased the very best quality when it appeared they had very little income to part with. The thought behind this was, instead of nickel and diming themselves to death, they were going to do it right the first time. Second, if they were going to replace something, it meant that it is something absolutely necessary for their lifestyle. They would not be spending money on anything frivolous to begin with. Thirdly, because of the importance of their purchase, they wanted to make sure that what they bought was going to last. They would check for plastic parts verses metal parts, where the item was made and if that country was known for good workmanship in that specific niche. Could they find replacement parts? These factors were all considered when making a purchase. Nothing was done lightly. They were spending hard earned money and they wanted to be prudent. They had very little but what they did have was "good".


Perhaps many of these concepts are already being employed by many of you but I thought I would share them just the same. I know that in my younger years I used to think that frugal meant buying the cheapest thing but I don't feel the same way about that now.  I used to think that "brand new" had a longer life-span but I can see that isn't necessarily the case. I used to think repairs weren't worth the time and effort but if you are buying "good" in the first place then they absolutely are. What about you, what have you found to be helpful from your experiences with the topics above? I will continue the series in another post because it can take quite some time to go through. Happy homemaking!

28 comments:

  1. Jes, we have lived that way for years as money has been scarce. Most of our furniture is from what we call our Op Shops. Here they are filled with good quality furniture which has probably been donated after an older family member has died. The prices are usually quite low too. Furniture was built to last years ago.

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    1. These sound like our thrift shops! They are filled with "good quality goods" and like you said, things used to be built to last! Better bargain with better quality... win-win! :)

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    2. Jes, My dear husband is buy new, well when he did I made sure it was good furniture, reasoning it would last a lifetime, now he is more than happy to get something for me off Marketplace or a Thrift shop. Including a real wood sewing cabinet.

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    3. Excellent! Thank you so much for sharing! :)

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  2. Yes, totally agree about repairing and reviving of old things! They often serve better than new ones. Also, craftsmen made shoes and clothes is of better quality and made specially for you. That means, you will enjoy them longer and feeling better in them

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    1. So true! So true! Thank you for sharing here today!

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  3. I think we are going to repair more or a least fix until we can get it, as things seem to be getting hard to come by. Back in the Spring around April our bathtub cracked (plastic). We ordered a new bathtub and surround but it wouldn't come in till at least 6 weeks. We temporarily fixed it with flex tape. No leaks but on a shaky leg eventually I'm sure. Bathtub and surround is in storage and we are now waiting on our fix it man to install..hopefully next week. Always looking for solutions temporary or not.

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    1. I definitely understand that! Thanks for taking the time to share... hopefully the repair man will show up soon!

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  4. Jess I love old furniture. I paint pretty much everything and the shabbier it is the more l like it. I love everything you have shown here. I love pretty handles and scrolls and carving... and when it is lighter it all shows up so beautifully. I just bought three very old white wooden kitchen chairs for $5 each on Facebook buy swap and sell for our area. So happy! xxx

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    1. That makes sense as I love all you share! :) I can't wait to see your kitchen chairs! So fun to bargain hunt!

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  5. Great post, good common sense tips.

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    1. Thanks Evelyn! I hope you have a lovely weekend! :)

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  6. As others have said, I also agree with thought process. My actual thought is What can I buy or do so I will never have to buy this again? (Haven't found an answer to that for shoes, but do repair until they are completely worn.)

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    1. Oh yes! Well said! My husband is our shoe repair... he has some special way he reattached soles using Gorilla Glue (his answer to everything)... :)

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  7. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. It reminds me of how things were done in the olden days before everyone "went green" cough cough. ~grin~
    Blessings from Harvest Lane Cottage,
    Laura

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    1. Hi Laura, funny you should say that! I actually think our ancestors in the olden days were the original green movement due to a prudent way of thinking. There was less waste in their lifetime, they recycle and reused and repurposed everything they owned and they kept what they owned (thus relieving the landfills)... Like Solomon says, "there is nothing new under the sun"... The old fashioned ways were zero waste... I would say they were the pioneers! ;) in a realistic sense.

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  8. Hi Jes,
    That is how we have lived whether or not money was tight. I love having and using some furniture that belonged to my great grandmother as well as my grandmother's china. I'm also extremely fond of antiques and have a few pieces in my home that were bought decades ago when everyone else wanted new. The dovetailing is indeed a mark of quality craftsmanship.
    I also agree with the "repair" plus I have some kitchen tools that don't require electricity such as my apple peeler and hand cranked grain grinder. Those seem to last forever. Blessings, Laura

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    1. Hi Laura,

      I agree with everything you said! There is something "real" about this kind of lifestyle that feels so right. It is old-fashioned but it is satisfying and it leaves a lovely inheritance for the next generation (both in lessons and in household treasures).

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  9. This is the way I was raised! As a young adult having a good job,I had a wealth mind-set and thought money could buy me everything and I left those frugal ways behind. We live on a very small income now (for years now) and we are back to those old ways;buying second-hand, fix things ourself, mending our clothes but I must confess I had to change my mindset to this frugal way of living and had to seek inspiration in my upbringing and on blogs like yours and "down to earth" ,also various dutch blogs and I still do!!

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    1. You said it perfectly Angela! It is about changing our mindset and thinking in a different way but the fruits of this can be very sweet! :). Thanks so much for taking the time to share here!

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  10. Excellent post, and I agree wholeheartedly. My number 4 would be " If you have to sacrifice decency or morality in order to buy it, it's not a good deal, because your soul is worth than the object you're buying". I have worked retail for 34 years now, and I am sad to report that coupon fraud is real and worse than ever. At least 80% of my regular coupon ladies knowingly try to trick the system, (i.e. have several store cards under several different e-mails or ph #s when the limit is one per household, use fraudulent coupons, use blank pieces of paper in lieu of coupons when the self-checkout asks you to deposit them in the slot, return their items after earning their rewards and then repurchases the items on a different card to earn the rewards again, and so on, and so forth) I might add that it is so disheartening for me to witness this day after day after day, because I see these ladies so often and they seem like such nice people. So it distresses me that so many "nice" people think it is perfectly OK to swindle and steal in order to save a buck.

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    1. So very true... I remember an elder in my church told me this as a teenager and it stuck with me ever since... "It's not worth it to lose your soul over $8".

      Very sobering!

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  11. Good sound advice all around! I've been buying used furniture for several years now. One of my favorite pieces is a chair I paid $5 for from a friend and I was the fourth owner of it! I keep telling my husband it would be worthwhile to pay to have it upholstered and he keeps scoffing that it will take $500 but I assure him that our grandson's grandson will likely end up with that chair. Never mind him, I made a pretty good slipcover myself and it looks nice even if I am the one saying so!

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    1. Good for you! I should have mentioned slipcovers! Another way to beautify and extend use ❤️

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  12. This is good, wise advice. Another advantage of buying used pieces for your home, is the cheerful, homey feeling you get of having possibly mismatched, well loved items. Perhaps this look isn't for everyone, but I love it. For example, every wooden chair around our kitchen table is slightly different, and I love that! Such details make our home unique. I have seen homes that look exactly like the photos in a furniture ad, which I think is so boring and devoid of homeyness or personality.

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    1. Hi Laura, I couldn’t agree more! It’s a lovely look and quite homey 🏡 ♥️ and much more to my taste too 😊

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  13. We found the same to be true with cars! We don’t need brand new, just something reliable with a good review that we can buy outright! As a result, our most recent car that we bought 8 months ago was a 2006 Buick with 106K miles on it for $2200! We intend to drive it for the next 8+ years!

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    1. I couldn’t agree more! That is exactly how we shop for cars! Never new but always nice... nice quality car and nice to the budget ♥️

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