Driving through the small village roads of Żebbuġ felt like a blast from the past. As we made our way to our meeting point with Julia, we could not help but notice the authentic Maltese livelihood that filled the alleys of the village. I’ll be the first to admit, while I stood in awe at the beauty of Żebbuġ, I couldn’t picture myself living there on a quotidian level – seeing its seclusion and jadedness. As we waited for Julia, we observed the lifestyle that dragged on around us, men drinking in traditional band clubs, women carrying their shopping in wicker baskets…The village almost felt like it was stuck in a time warp – perpetuating the traditional Maltese culture we so often yearn for but never bother experiencing.
At that point, having never met Julia, I began to create all sorts of semblances of her in my mind. I thought: the woman doesn’t use shampoo or conditioner, she is not big on material items, and she lives in this small, bygone village… I expected a frail woman with short, oily hair to walk up to me; carrying a sack of some sort.
The first thing my encounter with Julia taught me was – before you assume, try asking.
When Julia came to greet us, she looked nothing like I had envisioned. She carried her long, sleek hair in a ponytail, she wore a vintage jumper and clean-cut trousers, finished off with knee-high boots. She looked like your typical girl next door. She did not stand out one bit.
We made our way to Julia’s residence which had previously been her father’s childhood home. She had moved into the house 20 days before and was in the process of renovating the whole space. Walking into the house, I stumbled over the boxes that filled the corridor – construction tools laid the pathway to the hallway, crates full of memoirs and old records lined the floor. We were welcomed into the main area – 3 rooms which Julia had cleaned up to make liveable. A red beanbag laid on the floor beside an old, broken down box-TV. As Julia kicked off her shoes and slipped into her house slippers, she shared her plans to develop the TV into a mini bar.
In the meantime, I looked at the photos that hung on the wall. It was interesting to see, she had not yet settled in but specific memorabilia had already been laid out for show. Her appreciation of emotive triggers soon became apparent to me. Julia quickly opened up about her grandfather’s tactics with the house she now inhabited, as she brewed some coffee. Every nook and cranny around the house featured a quick-fix her grandfather engineered to cover up everything that went wrong with the house over the years – be it superficial fixtures or quick plasterwork. The house needed a lot of work, Julia recapitulated, all of which her father and she would be handling together.
In fact, what I gathered from talking to Julia is a taste of her closed kinned relationship with her family and the influence this has on her current lifestyle. Julia described her parents as being a duo of hoarders, who, she felt she needed to hide her trash from for fear they would dig up something and find a method of repurposing it. As she cringed at the flashback of her childhood, I made a connection to something she had said earlier about converting the old TV in her living room into a mini bar. In fact, as I looked around her living room, I saw shoes perched on an aged skateboard and whiskey bottles standing in as bookends. Her experiences as a child had carried well into her adulthood, unknowingly to her.
As we headed off for lunch, Julia drove up a beautiful brown Mini-Minor which belonged to her brother. The car held what seemed like 5 pairs of shoes which got us talking about clothing. We had both read a study that stated that the average person wears 20% of the items in their wardrobe. Julia shared her process of self-evaluation with regards to clothing. When she first started to adopt the minimalist lifestyle, Julia described the feeling of uneasiness towards certain items in her wardrobe. “I mean, I would look at this pair of trousers and think – ‘whenever I wear this, I feel shoddy’ so I just made away with it and started to buy and wear clothes that made me feel comfortable and happy.”
After spending a day with Julia, I would define her as a functional minimalist. She does not travel by means of donkey or omit social media from her life. She presents herself as no different than the rest of us, just more aware of consumption habits. Some of us may look down on minimalists, thinking they’re hipsters that have taken up a victor-less cause but, in reality, they’re individuals who have cultivated a higher respect for both the world they live in and themselves. If you were to start a conversation with Julia about the environment, she’ll trace down her entire carbon footprint and explain the damage a plastic-driven purchase can have on the environment. Julia shops at the same supermarkets you do – she simply chooses to put all her vegetables in one bag rather than individually wrapping all the produce in plastic. Julia still uses body scrubs and moisturises – she just prefers to make them herself, with raw products, and adapt them to smell and feel the way she likes them to rather than buying them from Lush. She enjoys her little snacks – she just chooses to buy them in bulk, and fill up her jars with them, rather than purchasing individual packets that will barely last her through a screening of ‘Marley and Me’.
Sure, a minimalist lifestyle is hard to adopt at first – in fact, Julia preaches that it is much easier to carry out when you’re living by yourself. The fact remains, she started it off when she was still living at home, with her parents. Julia found that making her own products from scratch helped her gain control over her life and the products she was exposing her body to. In fact, Julia considers herself a minimalist within limits. She still enjoys eating meat and has therefore not completely switched to a vegetarian lifestyle but she has become more conscious of her intake of animal products for the sake of the environment. When she does decide to make a meal out of meat, Julia makes sure to use the carcass for the broth – which makes for a more natural, non-artificial flavour and a healthier intake overall.
On the whole, meeting Julia has been an eye-opening experience. Her vivaciousness and gratifying lifestyle proved to me that minimalism is not about giving up anything but rather allowing yourself to enjoy more and tap into an otherwise uncharted territory.
If you’re still not convinced about the bull we’re feeding you, check back next week when we’ll be sharing with you a fantastic coffee scrub recipe Julia taught us to make. Our skin has never been more grateful. In the meantime – if you’d like to learn more about the minimalist lifestyle, follow the work Julia does with Y4TE or join ‘No To Plastic Malta’ on Facebook to learn more about repurposing objects and reducing plastic from your daily routine.