The body care section of the supermarket is only four short shelves long, but I feel incredibly overwhelmed.
Bottles and tubes of every shape and color line the shelf. Nearly all are labeled in Russian.
All I need is face moisturizer. I know I’m in the right part of the store, but which of these many bottles and tubes holds what I’m looking for is a great mystery.
A store employee stands nearby and senses my confusion at the product offerings. She approaches me and begins rattling off a dictionary’s worth of foreign words, which fall like alphabet soup letters at my feet. I have no clue what she is saying.
I pull up the most important app on my phone for assistance. I’m so thankful for this translation app, which has been my go-to tool as I navigate the complicated Russian language.
I type “moisturizer” into the translator and show it to the woman. She nods knowledgeably and starts pointing at bottles with numbers on them, which appear to be SPF sunscreen ratings, but I can’t be sure. Nothing looks familiar, and I don’t know what bottle to choose from the shelf for my dry skin needs.
And then my eye falls on a tiny glass jar that says Johnson & Johnson Face Care Hydrating 24-Hour Day Cream in English. Winner!
The container is only 50ml – quite small compared to the “normal”-sized bottle I brought from the United States when we moved to Ukraine. But it holds what I need, so I pick it up and take a good long look on the shelf for something a bit larger. The store employee watches me as I do this, so I type “bigger bottle” into my translator and show it to her.
Her brow furrows and she adamantly shakes her head.
And that’s the story of why I bought a small bottle of face moisturizer.
But it’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s only a single example of a new European lifestyle I’m learning to live in Ukraine, and that is a lifestyle of living on a smaller scale.
During this particular trip to the market, I also bought a stick of deodorant that would be considered travel-sized in the U.S. And, we likely bought an assortment of grocery items like 200ml jars of jam and mustard.
Though there are some people in Kyiv who drive cars, many use public transportation, which means we schlep anything we buy on the subway and then have to walk home from the metro stop. Having bags and bags filled with stuff isn’t feasible or at all desirable, so it makes sense to me why we aren’t buying things in larger quantities.
Not only is lack of personal transportation a hindrance to living on a larger scale, but lives just simply are not built big here. Our kitchen, while a decent size, has only enough space for what we absolutely need. There is no pantry; we have three small cupboard shelves for things like rice, pasta and tea bags. Instead of a massive side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, we have one that stacks a refrigerator on top of the freezer, and the whole thing is smaller than what we owned in Las Vegas.
Our home has some bureaus where we keep shoes and store our luggage, but we don’t have built-in closets or excessive under-the-sink space for extra rolls of paper towels, cleaning supplies and the like. Our washer is so small (and ridiculously complicated and slow, but that’s another story for another day) that I have to do a load every day or every other day, depending on whether we go for a run or not. And there is no dryer; everything is hung on the balcony to dry. Let’s just say that sheet-washing day is a marathon since we only have one set of sheets.
We moved in Ukraine with four suitcases and one backpack worth of items – shoes, clothes, kitchen goods, home decor and everything we think we’ll need for the winter. Nonetheless, in the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling like we shortchanged ourselves in many ways. I regret some of the things we sold and not bringing some of the things I was convinced I could do without. As such, we’re slowly starting to build our lives back up, item by item (though I’m still on the hunt for a hoodie sweatshirt; seriously, why didn’t I pack one?).
That said, living on a much smaller scale is refreshing. We don’t need a lot of things, and there’s certainly no reason to have overly large items in our lives. This new lifestyle also helps me understand now why our foreign exchange students always thought stores like Costco and Sam’s Club were monstrosities. I’ve never been a fan myself, and now I can’t even imagine buying a package of three massive jars of peanut butter or an 18-pack of toilet paper.
Big things just take up space, both physically and mentally. I, for one, don’t mind buying the little bottle of face moisturizer … as long as I can find what I’m looking for!