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?