February 15, 2011

We Like to Make Stuff

Stuff is expensive in NZ.  Well, a lot of stuff.  Relatively speaking.  I didn't know it until I moved here, but growing up in America, I was used to cheap stuff. When that's what you are used to, it's quite the adjustment to move somewhere where stuff is not so cheap.  Take books for example. A standard paperback, a new best seller, is about $30.00.  A Gore-Tex raincoat?  About $700.  A DeWalt Battery Drill? $400.  James says in the states that drill is about $100 at Home Depot.  A can of black beans?  $3.50 here in Aotearoa.

I've started making toasted granola to replace the crunchy granola bars I used to buy  in the states. 
Every American expat I know orders things on line to be sent over, or has a running list as long as his or her arm of stuff to get on the next trip back or to have some unsuspecting visitor bring over with them.

Making our own hummus, recipe from Smitten Kitchen
But it's certainly not always practical to order stuff from the states, nor would I want to.  Because here's the good side of things being more expensive: You buy less stuff. You repair things. You live with the old version. You realize you didn't really  need it anyway. You make it yourself.  Or, sometimes, you think about it carefully, buy it and then REALLY appreciate it.  In the end, all of these alternatives are much better than buying too much stuff. 

After taking a little course, I have access to the university's framing workshop.  I made all these in 2008.
I would be so bold as to say that Kiwis aren't necessarily more moral about their shopping and material habits.  Rather, the price tag makes you think twice about whether you really need to upgrade your alarm clock. You know, to the kind with two alarms, so that James and I could get up at different times without resetting it? In my oppinion then, New Zealand is therefore a slightly less instant-gratification, disposable, consumerist society. And I like that.  After a little while away, I can certainly see that American consumerism can be not only excessive but suffocating. 

For me, it's still a mixed bag: Sometimes I get incredibly frustrated and discouraged by the limited choices and high prices when I'd just like a semi-pretty shower curtain; other times, I find it liberating to realize I don't need a new hoody or that my home-made granola tastes so much better.
It's taken a looooong time for these to ripen in Dunedin's cool, wet climate.  But we're pretty excited that we now have THREE nearly-ripe tomatoes.  Next year, we'll try cherry tomatoes instead.
And we do make a lot of stuff ourselves. Hummus. Granola. Zucchini. Even tomatoes! A coat rack. Curtains. A table or two. Frames.  

James' world-famous multi-grain bread.

James made this beautiful picnic table in no time a few weeks ago. Benches are yet to come.

This small breakfast table is still a work in progress. I'm anxious for its completion!

You can't see them actually, but I made the roman blinds pulled up to the top of the windows. The bookshelve were made by a friend. And you can see a part of our garden out the window.

So, I've embraced my new-found inner Martha Stewart and Bob Villa.  They throw away less plastic, spend less money and take more time preparing food. They don't bother keeping up with the Jones' cuz the Jones' are about the same.

Do I still miss Costco?  Absolutely. Anyone coming to visit?


  1. In the sixties we would stuff our bags full of fresh fruit when we flew back to Alaska. We may have wished for other things but fresh fruit was truly delicious.

  2. I know! I wish that we had a garden or a garage space where I could have a little workshop - I miss being able to refinish furniture :-( I was a bit bummed when we first moved here and I definitely had a "miss list" of stuff that I wanted... but I've adapted! I've learned to embrace pumpkin (squash) and have figured out how to make my own salsa (so yummy!). We also cut out a lot of the junk foods in our grocery budget and are eating healthier. Yes, the shopping choices on some things are a pain (especially while trying to shop for a newborn - ugh) but in other respects, I think that it's been good for me :-)

  3. I really like that there is less emphasis on "stuff" here in NZ. However, I too am frustrated at the high cost of yes, books, electronics, clothing. Great post.

  4. I'm a Kiwi ex-pat living in Austria (came here because of Juli's tweet!) and plan to move back in June after 10 years away and must admit - the expense is one of my concerns...I'm not a huge shopper anyway, it's more that even stuff like cheese was expensive last time I was home. Time for a cheesemaking course?;P

  5. It's probably because I've been in New Zealand over 15 years, and I've adjusted, but I just don't find New Zealand to be terribly expensive (apart from books, of course).

    During my first few years, I missed some products, but some appeared here (sometimes made in Australia), others I found local substitutes for and the rest, like you, I learned to make myself or realised I didn't really need.

    But I've never found electronics to be expensive (apart from Apple products, which cost more in pretty much every country than they do in the US—the rest of the world subsidises US buyers). In fact, I've often been surprised by how cheap some things are.

    So I wonder if some of this comes down to regional differences here in NZ, like the regional differences within the US. In Auckland, there's not much I can't get easily (we even have a store that imports container loads of American products, including American groceries). Trade Me has been a great resource for locating speciality things (like specialist audio gear) that are otherwise hard to get in New Zealand.

    I have no idea how to even test that, but it would be interesting to find out!

    Oh, I also came here because of Juli's Tweet!

  6. I'm feeling inspired after seeing all of the beautiful/tasty things you've been making. There's something really rich about eating something you've grown, or using something you've created. I wish all of my belongings and food could be that exactly!

  7. Commenting on the comments above... Sounds like it's a mixed bag for a lot of you too... For me, the irony is also that when I'm in the USA I feel totally overwhelmed and even depressed by the amount of cheap stuff everywhere! There must be an in between!! :) And yes, I have seen prices come down in some areas (not food though!) just since I first came to NZ. I have also seen variety and choices improve. And I have noticed that even in Christchurch, as opposed to Dunedin, there is more variety in the stores and more international food.

  8. Hey, Mo.
    Curious about your granola recipe? Can you share??
    I hope you are doing well. I love to read of your adventures!

  9. Hi Juls! It's not much of a recipe, I'm afraid... But it's very easy! I roast some plain oats (some hearty, high quality ones), peanuts and almonds in the oven on a high setting, stirring frequently until they all go golden brown. Then I pull them out of the oven, add the following: a bit of butter, a lot of honey, a bit of vanilla (or almond essence), raisins, dried apricots and craisins. Stir well and let cool. That's it! I make it in really big batches as it doesn't seem to go bad. It's not super crunchy and over time it will soften, so I've read that you can keep it in the fridge or freezer to prevent softening. Enjoy! I eat it with plain yogurt everyday - nice combo of tart and sweet. :)

  10. I love your blog :)
    We have been stuck here in NZ for a good many years due to issues with family court, and we receive care packages from home. The few times we have been able to afford a visit home, we went with large long lists of stuff we needed that we couldn't afford in NZ really - the problem then was getting it back on the airplane without incurring the extra baggage fees. In general, you end up doing a lot of small-scale mental accounting down here, I've found, because the nonexistent economies of scale force you to, unlike in the States where there is so much surplus of EVERYTHING that you can live off it quite easily and thoughtlessly. We found the obligation to file U.S. returns and pay Social Security on top of the NZ taxes was a real burden in a country that is much more expensive than home in a lot of ways already. For those with offshore income, you're a slave to the exchange rate as well, and this creates cash flow instability. We stock up on decent hard-wearing cheap clothes for the kids, art supplies, sturdy shoes, games/consoles (all of these often from Goodwill and off of ebay because you can get better/cheap secondhand for the price in the States than going to Warehouse, which is all we can afford down here & quality is worse than Kmart or Walmart), certain ethnic foods and comfort foods and spices, among other things. I, too, am depressed and overwhelmed by the choice and cheapness back home the few times we have been able to afford to make it back there. It's also sad for us because it's so easy to get to know people back home, and make friends - not so here in NZ. I lived a voluntary simplicity type life Stateside and didn't realize there would be an important psychological difference between *choosing to do it and being forced to do it*. There is one, though. The quality of the housing for the price here in NZ and in general the concept that the scenery and lifestyle (such as it is) trump all the country's problems made NZ not worth it for us, and we are leaving as soon as we are allowed to do so. Eyes on the clock! I really love your blog, and also make homemade granola myself (did back in the States too) - but I use maple and pecans for mine and can't find non-rancid inexpensive pecans at all here in NZ. When kind people send nice fresh sealed pecans, that's what I tend to make with them. I keep it in airtight glass jars and eat it with plain yogurt like you do. I'll say one thing - Cyclops yogurt is great. :D