trying to live la pura vida

I’m back from an amazing week in Costa Rica. Did you miss me?

I want to write all about the trip, and kept a journal while we were there in order to do so, but our camera broke while we were there, and my husband’s iPhone, which became our backup camera, was left in San Jose. Through a strange and amazing series of circumstances which I will surely tell you about later, the phone is on its way back, but I’m not going to write about the bulk of the trip until I have some pictures of beautiful Costa Rica to share as well. I really fell in love with the country and the people we met there.

One thing people in Costa Rica say a lot is “pura vida.” It literally translates to “pure life” but can also be used to sort of mean “full of life.” It’s definitely true of Costa Rica, it was true of our trip, and it’s something I’m trying to make true of my life as well. As the comments on the “No Clothes” post keep rolling in and people affirm the challenge, I’ve been pondering my motivations for the challenge and for my desire to begin to live a simpler life in general. Part of it is that I know that for me, the cycle of wanting and buying and wanting and buying is not actually leading to a happier, more joyful life, but rather a vicious cycle of materialism. And another part of it is, I don’t want the things that give me happiness, like a pretty new dress, to be tainted by the fact that they’re bad for the environment and made by very poor people in very poor working conditions. A life of “pura vida” would be about life and happiness for all, not life and happiness that is dependent on others’ suffering and oppression.

When we were in San Jose, we stayed in an amazing house-turned-bed-and-breakfast that we found through AirBnB. Our host, when we asked what brought him to Costa Rica, told us about the day he was liberated from a life of comfort and material things the day a wildfire destroyed his nice house and everything he owned in Southern California. And that’s the way he describes that experience: liberating. Now he lives in a lovely condo in San Jose and shares the gifts of hospitality and good conversation with everyone blessed to stay with him. And I do mean blessed– hospitality, shared meals, and good conversation are practically the sacraments of my faith.

Over the course of the week, I just kept ruminating on what it would be like to feel liberated from materialism. I don’t mean liberated from actually having things, or appreciating beauty, or even from buying things, but I do mean liberated from the never-ending desire of my current shopping habits. For example– I like to browse lots of style blogs, largely for inspiration on how to wear things I already have, or things to DIY for myself or my home– they inspire my creativity, and that’s always a good thing. However, they also often inspire my desire to shop and spend. For example, while perusing my backlog accumulated in Google Reader during a week without my computer, I saw, and immediately wanted this dress from Ruche: Why? Because it’s a very good knockoff of a Marc Jacobs dress I’ve been coveting ever since Michelle Obama wore it (source): The Marc Jacobs version was $685. The Ruche version, which is sold out, was $43. Why? Well, the knockoff is 100% polyester (read: made from petroleum, not very breathable) and “imported” (read: probably not manufactured under the best of conditions). I could (were it not sold out, and had I not taken a no shopping for clothes vow) buy that $43 dress and simply enjoy its beauty and the feeling that I had scored a great look that I had long admired at an insane price. But I’d be bothered by the fact that it’s a blatant ripoff of something someone else created, and I’d be more bothered by the fact that it was made of oil and most likely sewn under not great working conditions. And the sad fact is, the person I am right now, that person can easily say to herself, “BUT IT’S CUUUUTE. AND SO CHEAP!” I don’t want to be that person. That person who says she cares about living “la pura vida” and advocates for the environment and social justice, but is willing to throw all that away for a cute dress. Maybe one day I’ll actually live up to my own values, but it’s hard. Anyone else out there on the same sort of journey?

10 Replies to “trying to live la pura vida”

  1. I’m definitely there too. I’m inspired by the idea of not buying any new clothes for a period of time (in my case, until December, just as a test), but more so by the idea of breaking out of the “vicious cycle of materialism.” Not only does the materialism and consumerism our culture tends to promote encourage a greater disparity between America and the rest of the world, but it’s also hurting our sense of what’s really important. Having a cute new dress is wonderful, and does make a person feel good, but the consequences of that cute new dress can also be harmful. Saving more and spending less in general, and having less things that weigh us down, can be more liberating than materialistic “rewards” could ever be. While I don’t want my house to burn down in a wildfire, I also would love to be able to shed some of the baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, much of which is also emotionally charged, and live life in a more pure and simple way.

    Also, if we ever move again, I have way too much stuff. So there’s that too.


  2. i have purchased 3 totally new firsthand retailer items in the past 12 months: a bicycle, an iphone, and a dog bed. i’m knee deep into the secondhand world because i mostly refuse to purchase in support of poor labor conditions. this has been a journey. perhaps you know… i grew up in the same high school as you did, and it was a minute before i could rid myself of the abercrombie label fiending.

    buying secondhand doesn’t mean i’m totally radical (someday!), it’s just a step in the right direction for me… away from supporting horrible labor conditions, while still participating in capitalistic materialism to express myself through fashion. i will say, though, that the limitations of secondhand have pushed me into purchasing less in general, and oddly, into wanting less — despite my men’s fashion obsessive tumblr’ng. now i spend all my money on food :)


  3. Interestingly, I had a conversation on this topic about a week ago. I met one of my friends who is an Eastern Orthodox deacon for lunch and we got into a conversation about asceticism – a tradition that is probably healthier in Orthodoxy than in Protestantism. Much of our conversation focused on the idea of asceticism as freedom. Obviously, fulfilling our desires is pleasurable but reshaping our desires into better ones, jettisoning the ones that result in confusion or harm to others, should ultimately be much better.


  4. Luckily we said shoes aren’t a part of this whole thing because I’m thinking about pink cowboy boots right now. I keep reminding myself not to buy clothes. We’ll see if I can do it.


  5. When I went to Uganda three years ago, I expected to struggle with the living conditions of the people there…to feel hurt, sad, disgusted, and compassionate. What I didn’t ever expect to feel was jealous. But the people there had such freedom from material goods. Their happiness was not in any way dependent on things and their faith was rooted firmly in Christ…not in the passing hope, joy, or comfort that material things bring us. I was so jealous of that freedom, that pure joy which was untainted by the stuff I so easily get wrapped up in. When I came back, I vowed to live simpler…to remind myself that having less things meant having more freedom, more joy, more opportunity to share with others, to appreciate the simple wonders in life.

    I’m three years out now, and I still need that reminder. It seems I forget as soon as I walk into a TJ Maxx. Thanks for finding a way to remind me of that again today.


    1. I totally know what you mean, Courtney– as I passed children happily playing in front of meager shanties in Costa Rica, I actually did envy them a bit, for their pure, unbridled laughter and joy that was just rooted in life, not in things. It’s definitely weird to say, and to feel, because I recognize that I am so very privileged in so many ways, but I think things often keep us from experiencing just plain happiness.


  6. I think about this every.single.time I go into Old Navy to buy clothes for my son. I hate that I’m doing it, and I get annoyed with myself that I do, but I get exhausted trying to find clothes at thrift shops, and garage sales, or that are well-sourced, and the kicker for kids clothes, not expensive. So I throw my hands up in the air and buy shorts and tees from Old Navy, or Target, and justify it because he *needs* the clothes.


  7. Totally in the same place. That’s really why I started blogging… I felt like it would really make me hold myself accountable. I’ve always been the person who encourages people to recycle and really consider their purchases or even the things they throw away, yet I haven’t always been the person I encourage everyone else to be. Good luck!!! I think it’s all about taking it a step at a time.


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