When I first lived in Mexico I stayed with different Mexican families. This was pivotal to my language and culture learning and I will be forever grateful to those families for showing so much patience and love to me. But after some time in my last host family's tiny apartment, in which I shared a room with a three year old, I decided I could do without the deliciously prepared meals and "convivencia" and rented a room with another American girl in the home of three Mexican sisters. We couldn't have been more different but we really enjoyed being together. They made fun of our broken Spanish and we laughed so much together that pants were peed and drinks were snorted out of noses. We became each others' family.
During the year I lived with them I noticed lots of contrasts between them (sisters), and us (the other American girl and me). We would visit the grocery store weekly and buy a ton of stuff we were probably never going to be able to consume on our own. They, on the other hand, would visit the tiendita on a daily basis, buying fresh bread or fruits and other things they planned to use that day. The fridge was full of our food but held little of theirs. When it was trash day, we normally threw out a few big bags of garbage while they would throw out a small plastic bag or two. I began to notice how we would also tend to grab a handful of napkins, while they would only take one at a time. In fact, pretty much everything thing we did was in larger quantities. We used more soap to wash dishes, more laundry detergent to wash clothes, more water to shower, etc.
Now these girls were not poor. The house had been purchased by their parents so they could go to college in the city and have their own place to live rent-free. But they had learned to use less and waste little. They didn't shop as a hobby or a pasttime. They shopped when they needed something.
I can't say that I am totally like them these days but I did learn a lot about being more responsible with what I have. I wash dishes like a Mexican: take a bowl, add a bit of dish soap and water and dip the sponge in to scrub the dishes. It uses way less soap. I try to reuse things or just buy less to start with. I even use one napkin at a time, which if you are eating a molote (fried stuffed taco with salsa and cream dripping off it) is not an easy task. Now, when I go back to the States for a visit, I am overwhelmed by how much stuff there is and how much is wasted. I walk into a Target, for example, and all of a sudden I want to buy so many random things I definitely don't need or even have space for. It's like a hypnosis comes over me. It says "buy buy buy" in the voice of Guido's friend in Life is Beautiful (dormo, dormo dormo). I'm really kind of glad to be removed from that. Yes consumerism exists here; we are neighbors after all. But people are also more frugal because there are less resources and therefore needs and wants are very well defined. I like it. My husband would tell you I am a total consumer and buy way too much. My mom would say I buy nothing. So, I guess you could say I'm smack in the middle.