Give Me the Simple Life: “Aha” Moments

Chelsea is a senior in college who spent this summer in Costa Rica, learning Spanish in an immersion program. While there, she was assigned to live with a Costa Rican host family and experienced a few life-changing “aha” moments along the way. She was kind enough to share her insights with me.

This is Chelsea’s story:

All of the students in the immersion program were assigned to live with a host Costa Rican family. We were told the families came from varied socio-economic levels, and while I was prepared for living a simpler life for the summer, I thought we’d have most of the same comforts as in the United States. To my surprise, I ended up in a small home with open ceiling rafters, no hot water, a tiny bedroom (which meant little privacy because of the close quarters), no wi-fi. As I walked into the house and saw the open ceiling rafters and realized my bedroom was so tiny that I would be living out of a suitcase for the summer because there wasn’t enough space for a dresser or a closet, I knew this wasn’t going to be quite the summer I had anticipated it to be. It was going to be more of a challenge than I was prepared for.

But I also assumed  all the other students in the program ended up in a similar housing situation. I didn’t have any contact with those students until after the first weekend. And then I discovered that a good majority of my friends had been placed in large houses with families who were well-to-do. I went to visit one of my friend’s host homes and was surprised to see how comfortable it was. I was surprised . . . and a little jealous.

On the way back to my host family’s home, I thought of how much easier it would be if I were spending the summer in a better home. With hot water. With wi-fi!

For the first few weeks, I had trouble transitioning into this ultra-simple, rustic lifestyle. The host family spoke no English, and I was trying to converse in rusty Spanish. I was really struggling. Finally, I decided  the only way to get through the next eight weeks was just to . . . get through it.


But then a turning moment occurred. My host mother showed me how to get the cold water a little warmer so  my showers weren’t icy cold. She laughed at me, in a gentle way, because I’d been suffering through cold showers needlessly. I started laughing at the situation, and then we were both laughing. It was a breakthrough moment! I started to view this host family’s generosity toward me as a blessing. The lack of modern conveniences receded and became less important. What became important was getting to know this kind family.

And then I started to notice the “upside” of a modest household: a small house meant the family interacted more. It wasn’t that they didn’t have problems or friction, but they couldn’t avoid each other. Family conflicts were dealt with quickly, simply because they had to live in close quarters with one another. I noticed how appreciative they were about the simplest things: an unexpected gift, a shared recipe from a neighbor, herbs brought in fresh from the garden. They shared everything they had. Also, a small house meant they interacted a great deal. There was lots of conversation after meals. Cafécito was a word they used for sitting around and having coffee together, sharing stories about their day, laughing, and enjoying one another. Oddly enough, the smaller space led to a richer life.

After a few more weeks, I started to notice how I had benefited from a summer of simple living. My friends in the program who had been assigned to more well-to-do families with larger homes and wi-fi spent most of their free time on social media with friends and family in the U.S. instead of being fully present in Costa Rica. By summer’s end, I was aware  I had grown much closer to my host family than these other students did with their host families.

The first week, I entered my host family’s home with a feeling of pity for their modest circumstances. Eight weeks later, I left their home with an awareness of how rich and blessed they truly were. They might not have had much materially, but they certainly had the most important things.

What about you? Was there a moment in your life when you discovered an “Aha!” moment about a surprising benefit of living with less? I’d love to hear your story!


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About Suzanne

Suzanne Woods Fisher writes bestselling, award winning fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her interest in the Plain People began with her Old Order German Baptist grandfather, raised in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne's app, Amish Wisdom, delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone or iPad. She writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She lives with her family in California and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you can't take life too seriously when a puppy is running through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.


  1. Melissa L. says:

    I had the “Aha” moment when we moved to NC and I wasn’t no longer working. Having two kids (with one under school age), it made no sense for me to find and job to work. Two kids in daycare would have wiped out my paycheck. I would not have been making the money that I was before we moved. It has been hard but we have learned to do without. We have learned to pay with cash. No cash we don’t need it. Since the move, we have begun homeschooling our daughters. Since I was a SAHM, I am able to take the time to teach and spend time with my daughters. Yes, some days it is hard but the benefits far outweigh the costs. We are closer as mother and daughters. I pray we are able to continue this for many years to come.

    • Suzanne says:

      Melissa–I can tell you’re committed to making these choices work for your family! Paying cash (instead of getting caught in the tangle of credit), for example. So many people want to do what you’re doing, but don’t know how to sustain it. You’ve really got a message to share for other families. My husband counsels couples at our church who are in financial difficulties…helps them get their heads above water…and sadly, over 50% get right back into the same difficulties. Thanks for sharing your story! Warmly, Suzanne

  2. Debra says:

    Great article. Really makes you think of what is really important.

  3. Linda Dietz says:

    The first thought that came to mind is for us to be content with whatever we have…be it much or be it little. Upon retiring, God led us to build a larger house than we had ever had before. While not in the mansion category, our nearly 5,000 sq is alot to steward. We host a monthly men’s prayer breakfast at a table that can comfortably seat 18-20. We have a guest suite on the lower level which is often occupied by missionaries traveling through our area…or staying several months. Our motto has been “There is always room for one (or 2 or 3) more.” To answer the posed question, yes there are many times I would love to be living in our single wide mobile home of 40 yrs ago. Simplicity sounds heavenly…but that is not what God has asked of us during this season of life. Again, I must go back to Phil 4:11 where we are urged to learn how to be content in whatever state we find ourselves. I do believe that the test of what we do when given much (relatively speaking) is the harder test to take…and pass with flying colors hopefully, hearing the phrase, “Well done…”

    • Suzanne says:

      Linda–What a terrific perspective on “things”–big or small. Your motto is one to remember. Think how warmly welcomed a person would feel in your home–to know there was always a heart eager to stretch for one more. Such a generous point of view! Loved, loved, loved it. Thank you for showing us how to live with “more”…not just less! Warmly, Suzanne

  4. Suzanne, I understand this families life. That’s the way I grew up. or in my younger life. I don’t remember any envy of others for not having things. We had a good relationship with each other, and, mostly in close quarters. There was 8 of us kids, so rooms were for sure shared since we always had smaller houses. I can remember one house where there was only two bedrooms, but one was a long room. So, the girls were on one side and the boys on the other side. Daddy fixed a curtain across the middle of the room, for when we needed privacy. I can still remember the fun times we had sharing life around our dining table. Especially in this one place that had a screened in porch where we would move the table into during the summer. No A/C’s back then. You just got used to the weather. We never had many material things, but enough. And, we was for sure blessed with much love and love for GOD. My ah-ha moment would have to be when we finally moved into our little town, from the country. There was electric lights hanging with pull strings to turn on and off. AND, indoor plumbing. My first with running water and inside toilet. I was amazed. But, we still lived a humble, simple life. I never minded. Maxie Anderson

    • Suzanne says:

      Maxie–Your memories of childhood were so intriguing! Loved reading about them. I could definitely “hear” the happiness and sense of security in your voice. Your comment about just getting used to the weather (no A/C) was so true–we grow accustomed to creature comforts and think we can’t live without them. But…people have and people do! Thanks so very much for taking the time to share your insights. Warmly, Suzanne