As those who follow NoXS Minimal on Facebook will know, two weekends ago I lived minimal. Very minimal. How minimal? My family and I lived for three days in a refugee village on the Thai/Burma border. That’s how minimal!
Noh Bo is predominately populated by the Karen – an ethnic people group mostly from a Burma – who have fled their homeland (Karen State in Eastern Burma) from the longest running civil war in the world’s history. Along the Thai/Burma border there are nine UN sanctioned refugee camps. Noh Bo is not one of them, although it is tolerated by the Thai government.
The people here live in simple, wooden or bamboo huts raised on stilts to open with the rising waters of the Moei river in the wet season. These homes are very simple. Usually they are one room with a toilet/bathing room underneath or outside if you are lucky. Otherwise, you go dig a hole or you bathe in the river.
The house we stayed in was about 48m2. We were the guests of two a Westerners from NZ who run a teacher training course in Noh Bo. Graeme and Kendal are amazing people who I have come to know over a few years now. And their place is a great example in how one can live very comfortable yet very minimal.
The house is completely open plan and they have divided it up with mosquito nets. They have a bedroom in one corner and next to that have joined three mosquito nets to form a lounge/kitchen/living room. The rest of the place is open, although for our stay, Graeme had put up an extra net for our kids’ “room”.
Living here for three days made me aware of a few things:
1. There is so much wasted space in our modern Western homes. In the Noh Bo house, space is used wisely and areas double up. We rarely do that any more. We want a media room and a formal lounge and a recreation room in our homes. Not Smart.
2. We have forgotten about the “outdoor” rooms around us. I’m not necessarily talking about an elaborate pergola or a second outdoor kitchen. But how can we use our outdoor space better? If our climate allows it, why not have only an outdoor kitchen and not have a kitchen inside? Or how about forgoing a second living area and making better use of our outdoor spaces (private and corporate/public)?
3. Living like this needs a change of mindset, but is not impossible. How can six people possibly live in such close quarters long term and not kill each other? Granted, we were only in Noh Bo for three days. But could we have stayed on and made it work? I reckon so, but my Western space/living mindset was going to have to have an overhaul to make it work. I was going to also need to become more tolerant and more thoughtful. It would require a recollection of some old-fashioned values about family and working things out and how we have fun and how we communicate. But there is probably more right with that than wrong with that.
The Karen and many other tribal and ethnic groups have lived like this for aeons. The way they live is sustainable, affordable and, to be honest, comfortable. Yes, it may be all they have ever known, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored or clocked up as abnormal.
Many Westerners are becoming more open about the idea of living like this. The Tiny House movement is exploring ways to live well in less space. Many Westerners are seeing the error of their affluent ways and seeking smaller, more affordable housing that does the job; and in the process are discovering how good living like that can be.
A recent Facebook post on the NoXS Minimal page talked about how we often (wrongly) see tribal groups as getting it wrong. When it comes to housing and living I believe that there are many lessons for me to learn about how, if I follow their example, I might just get it right!
Live Simply, Simply Live.