The Minimalist Challenge

“Simplicity is complex. It’s never simple to keep things simple. Simple solutions require the most advanced thinking.”
― Richie Norton

I’ll confess! I don’t walk willingly into the minimalist world. I constantly fight it because I am a collector of artifacts, travel mementos, of everything! My life is one big collection of memoirs! Yet, living on a small island, in the middle of a huge sweet sea, in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of Central America, I have been forced to reduce and reuse because: we have NO trash pick-up, there is no Super Wal-Mart or even a mall on Ometepe Island, and life is undeniably simpler.

I guess that can be a good thing. Right? I am forced to reduce my carbon footprint. My neighbor, Marina, cleans my house three days a week. She constantly reminds me that I have many “chunches” (things) as she waves my dirty old underwear, used as a cleaning rag, under my nose. “Look at this dirt!” she says shaking her head and waving my old underwear.

So, I will…reluctantly…take Annette’s Minimalist Challenge because I know I must figure out a way to actively reduce the amount of plastic and tin we collect around the house.
“I would like to challenge YOU, my reader, to think of at least one action you can adopt in 2015 that will reduce plastic and other throw-away products; that will bring down energy usage; and/or minimize unnecessary consumption of any kind.”

I started feeding my dog and cats a little canned dog food every day as a treat. These tin cans add up, so this year I made a Christmas tree out of them.

We really like the Flor de Cana rum drinks, so I reuse the glass bottles by filling them with colored water and setting them on my porch as sun catchers. We are fortunate to grow much of our food and we have over 15 varieties of fruit trees growing on our property. Plastic and glass bottles and jars are always washed and stored. I can use the glass jars when I make mango jams.

Seriously, we are very fortunate to have little trash because: the little pulperias and mom and pop grocery stores have only a few items that are wrapped in plastic, we reuse most of our containers, and we can use our creative imaginations to think of ways to reuse some of the nonburnable stuff we collect.

Our beach was destroyed during the October storms, leaving an eroded mini-canal in the middle of our beach. Today, while I was cleaning the beach and burning old brush piles, Ron was hammering and sawing…and voila… he made a bulldozer blade for our dune buggy so we can level the beach sand.
IMG_6052 Our carbon footprints have been drastically scaled back by living on a small tropical island, but there is still more that we can do.

My goals for 2015 to lead an even more minimal lifestyle and reduce our carbon footprints:

1. To make a better and larger compost pile for our organic waste. Basically, that means it is time to dig another hole for the mass of mangoes. We want to use the bushels of mangoes and research the idea of making methane out of the compost.

2. The biggest problem we have is what do we do with our plastic? If we take it to the dump, they just burn it anyways. There are no recycling centers on Ometepe Island. Even though we have considerably less waste than when we lived in the states, it is embarrassing to admit that we either burn it or bury it.

Our goal is either to make a better trash incinerator, but that won’t solve the problem of releasing hydrocarbons into the air, or research a way to shred the plastic and use it by combining it with concrete to use as a building material.

3. To make a Neem Press so we can press Neem oil and use it in our garden as a natural pesticide.

4. Develop a better water filter. Many people have kidney problems on Ometepe Island, and we need to test our water and make a better filter system that removes all impurities. We need to become more aware of the water we are drinking.

5. Our electrical system. Electricity is expensive in Nicaragua. Our average monthly bill is $60. We only run ceiling fans, computers, lights, a refrigerator, and a washing machine. Although we don’t have long outages like in the past, we still have daily outages of about 10 minutes. We need to explore solar panel systems and batteries and back-up energy systems to be ready if we do have long outages.

6.  Water drainage. When we are in the rainy season, the rain slashes to the earth creating many erosion problems. We built a retaining wall near our house, but now we need to research a way to protect other sections of our property and the beach.

7. Plant more trees that replenish the soil. Our soil, although rich, is composed of volcanic sand and it loses water quickly. The compost will help enrich the soil, but we’d like to explore a possible irrigation system for the dry season.

Our goals are lofty, but achievable. Thanks Annette for the nudge to set goals for a more sustainable lifestyle. I’ll keep you updated on our progress throughout the new year.


18 thoughts on “The Minimalist Challenge

  1. Hi Debbie,

    Thought I’d posted this info earlier, but received no confirmation in my inbox so will reconstruct as best as I can recall.

    Several years ago, while researcing “Tiny Houses” I came across plastic bottle construction.

    Since there are no recycling facilities on Ometepe, what to do with all those bottles, caps, cans and plastic bottles other than burn or bury?

    Maybe… rebuild in Los Ramos?

    Great photos and videos:

    A short video to warm your teacher heart. A schoolhouse built with plastic bottles.

    “Hug it Forward” has also built 59 “Bottle Schools” in 67 months.

    “Using plastic bottles in construction is significantly less expensive than buying bricks and essentially funds a grassroots recycling campaign in the absence of a government instituted waste management system.”

    The “Puravida” project in Atitlan, Guatemala:

    I’ve discovered tons of these types of “building with garbage” projects, all over the planet.

  2. Sounds like 2015 will be a busy year for you and I applaud your resolve and efforts! We’ve become very aware of what we throw away as travelers (especially in Central and South America) because, many times we don’t know when we’ll be able to replace it or we don’t want to buy more than we can use or carry. Guess we’ve become minimalist by choice, chance and necessity! P.S. I’m laughing picturing your neighbor waving your old underwear (my mind has filled in the blanks so I see them as flowered in bright pink!) while she scolds you about the dirt! Anita

  3. Wow you must really be busy if you need a housekeeper for only two people in a small house! I’ll be in a wheelchair before I hire one. By the way I am in Cotacachi Ecuador this winter and I am thinking this might be the place, did you make it here on your trip?. The produce is so good and cheap here. It is a little on the cool side but I have had enough heat in my life and the ocean is only 4.5 hours away.

    • Dean, I dislike that I have to justify my reasons for hiring my next door neighbor to clean my house, but since you are wondering, and I’m not wheelchair bound…Marina’s husband passed away in October. She and her family were living on his tiny pension. She applied for his pension, but it will take several months for her to receive it. She has to have a second operation to remove a tumor growing on her thyroid and she has no money for the operation, nor does she have the health insurance to go to a private clinic. The only money she receives is from cleaning my house three days a week. It gives her enough to buy rice and beans, and to help with transportation to her doctor’s appointments in Managua.

  4. many years ago, a fellow in Calgary Alberta, developed a Sand Water Filter System to teach to 3rd world countries.
    To help finance his efforts he produced molded plastic versions for sale in Canada and I bought one. Can’t seem to find his info, but searching found this page.
    Download the PDF, lots of info and links too on the second page.
    May be able to help out more, later if you need it. Hope you post your info.


    • Wow! OK, this site is awesome. Thanks so much. I don’t know what to make first. The plastic bottle boat looks interesting, but since we don’t have many plastic soda bottles, I’ll bet if I walk the beach, I can gather a fine collection. When school is in session, I’m going to make some of these things with the elementary students in our new library…of course, I’ll have to read a book about recycling to go with the project. I like the curtains, too. Wonderful link. Thanks mi amigo. Happy New Year!

  5. I am so impressed, Debbie and Ron. You have taken this to a whole new level! I love your ideas to reduce waste, find new ways to recycle (shredded plastic in cement – why not. I have seen people add gravel to cement to increase its volume), and improve ways to prevent or minimize soil erosion. BTW, a fairly simple solar panel setup on your roof can easily heat your household water (showers, washing machine, etc) and reduce your electricity bill. Hot water is usually the highest expenditure in utilities. Are you familiar with permaculture? There are lots of wonderful ideas to strategize when it comes to guiding run-off water, creating rain gardens (where water usually puddles), even channeling the rain run-off from the roof. I think you’ll have a lot of fun this year! Looking forward to your first update – say, the end of January? I would love to include your post in my summary of all the people who respond to this challenge.

    • Annette, I can’t thank you enough for the inspiration from your blog. Ron and I discussed all these items together today while I was writing my post. Thanks for the information about permaculture and a solar panel set-up for hot water. Right now, we don’t have any hot water. I wash our clothes in cold water, and we take cold water showers, which is usually refreshing. If I have particularly greasy dishes to wash, I heat up water on the stove and pour it into the sink. I will definitely keep you posted. I think we’re going to start on the mango hole first and explore how to produce methane from the rotten mangoes. Feel free to include my post in a summary. Thanks again for inspiring us. Happy New Year!

  6. Thank you for the great blog posts! Do many of the people on Ometepe Island have Kidney problems because of the water (hard water, minerals, etc.) or because of dehydration or because of drinking too much soda instead of water?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Jeff,
      I think it is a combination of all three. They consume way too many sugary soft drinks, and they work hard in the hot sun drinking very little water. Plus, our water is from the city of Moyogalpa and we have never had it tested. It leaves a white film on everything, so I think it is calcium. But, we researched calcium in water and we don’t have to worry about it. We have a ceramic filter, but we’re not sure what all it removes. We used to have a little steri-pen for a liter of water, but it broke. I’d like to explore a water filter system that removes harmful bacterias. I need to write a post about the unusual superstitions the Nicaraguans have about drinking water. Today, our neighbor came to our house and we offered her a cold glass of water. “Oh, no!” she said. “I cannot drink cold water. It is not good for my health.” Haha. Thanks for your comments, Jeff.

      • Thank you so much for the info – I will do absolutely anything to avoid yet another kidney stone! I only drink water (and a whole lot of it), but still get the occasional stone – ouch!!! I’m in the states and still trying to solve this puzzle – I’m admittedly concerned with having to deal with this in another country… By the way, I was just in Nicaragua for 2 weeks – what a beautiful country with incredibly nice people!

I'd love to read your ideas and thoughts below....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.