A Filipino Family Based in Dubai Shares How Living With Less Made Them Happier
Minimalism is not just about having a clutter-free home, says the mom. It's also about having peace of mind.
Despite being expats in one of the richest countries in the world, you’ll find Mae Gamboa’s home sparse of material possessions. When their family — her husband Cris, and their two children, Wakim, 8, and Leks, 3 — moved to Qatar in 2013, Mae read an article on minimalism that fascinated her and prompted her to join a Facebook group on the subject. Soon after, she decided to adopt the lifestyle for her family.
Cris was immediately onboard. “[He] and I are alike when it comes to the order of the house. We both prefer being organized and having less clutter at home,” she explains in an email interview with SmartParenting.com.ph.
The mom of two started the change by decluttering. She disposed of objects she deemed “unnecessary” — the extra clothes, shoes and bags. “I just kept the things we use all the time, but I made sure we [also] have something to use for special occasions,” she shares.
Letting go of material possessions is the hardest part of embracing minimalism, according to Mae. It took her a year before she could let go of her things.
“I realized that I can’t find real happiness and contentment from acquiring material things. It’s a process, so you have to take it one step at a time,” she says.
However, letting go lightened their life immensely. When her husband got another job offer in Dubai in 2018, they had an easier time moving. “Damit lang ang bitbit namin,” Mae says.
Moving the whole family abroad
Mae with her husband Cris, and sons Wakim and Leks. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
Cris has been working in the Middle East for more than 12 years now. But it was only in 2013, after Cris accepted a job in Qatar that included a sponsorship package for his family, when they all had a chance to live together in one roof.
“My husband and I have always talked about living like a typical family. We believe that family bond is stronger when together. Emotional and mental security is assured to each member of the family, too. But because of our financial situation, we were not able to achieve that goal,” Mae explains.
A minimalist life in Dubai
Mae's advice on buying furniture: Only purchase what you need, but it does not mean the place must look empty. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
Qatar and Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have almost the same environment, culture, and tradition, so there were no significant adjustments for Mae and her family. But their homes in the two countries were different and sparked Mae’s desire to live with less things.
“In Qatar, we lived in a part of the villa where there is plenty of space for gardening and for the kids to play. Here in Dubai, we live in a two-bedroom apartment,” Mae shares. “The area is quite limited. We must maximize the usage by converting the balcony into a garden, and the kids’ bedroom doubles as a play and study room.”
As a stay-at-home mom, Mae says the minimalist lifestyle has helped their family achieve stability and reduce expenses. She had to learn how to cook so their family could avoid dining in restaurants. She also learned to recycle, do container gardening and other DIYs to save more money.
Mae plants seeds of herbs and vegetables in her small garden at the balcony of their apartment. This minimizes their family's need to purchase herbs and veggies. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
There's a large number of kid-friendly areas in Dubai, but you have to spend money on entry tickets, even in public parks, says Mae. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
A typical day in their family goes like this: Mae wakes up early to prepare breakfast and to pack lunch for her husband and make bento meals for her kids. While Cris is at work, Mae cleans the house, tends to her garden and creates content for her blog.
Her two sons are homeschooled, so Mae also acts as their teacher and guide. When her husband comes home, she will start making dinner and her kids will participate in a homeschool session. “After that, the kids will play puzzles, draw, and have storytelling session before going to sleep,” Mae shares.
Beautiful and clean beaches can be found in Dubai. These are open to the public for free and is one of the Gamboas' favorite weekend destination. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
Weekends, especially Fridays, are mostly spent with the family (and sometimes with their friends) at the beach, park, or mall. Every Saturday, they will shop for groceries.
“I create a meal plan for the whole week to avoid spending time thinking about what to cook,” Mae shares. “With the time I save, I can spend it on looking after myself, have time for my hobbies, and rest.”
The advantages of having a minimalist lifestyle
Instead of shopping for new clothes and bags, Mae was able to save for useful things like a camera for recording her cooking videos. Here's a shot of her workstation and vanity table in one. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
In the Facebook group Minimalist Philippines, where Smart Parenting first learned of Mae’s journey, the mom of two shares how adopting a minimalist lifestyle changed their family’s life.
“’Sobrang chaotic ng schedule ko. I cook a lot, we homeschool, at wala kaming helper. Yung nakakatulong sa’kin to cope with stress ay yung malinis at maayos na bahay kaya naman malaking tulong ang minimalism sa motherhood journey,” she shares.
Mae also explains the reason why her family’s fridge is always stocked with food and why she makes it a point to have homecooked meals. Apparently, someone had asked her why her fridge is always full, and she cooks a lot when she calls herself a minimalist.
“Ang minimalism ay hindi lang about sa pagkakaroon ng less possessions o clutter-free na bahay. Kaya nga tayo [mga] minimalist para magkaroon ng peace of mind, to feed our body and to feed our soul.” —Mae Gamboa
“We invest sa health namin ng pamilya ko because as a homemaker, it’s my duty na maghain ng tamang pagkain para sa mga anak at asawa ko,” she says. “Kahit mas magastos ang mga ganitong pagkain, mas makakatipid ka pa din in the long run kaysa maya’t maya nagkakasakit.”
Mae says that she and her husband both agree that minimalism has had a positive impact on their lives. “Our finances are steady because we identify wants against needs. Instead, we set aside funds for future travels that will create memories, especially for our children,” she shares. “They can see the world, learn about other cultures, which I believe is more significant than possessing material things."
What kids can learn from a minimalist lifestyle
Her sons' bedroom also doubles as a play and homeschooling area. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
Since her children are still young and dependent on her, it was easier for her to teach them about minimalism. But it does not mean that they restrain their kids in a way that they will not enjoy their childhood.
“They are allowed to buy their favorite toys on Christmas and birthdays with a rule to give up old toys for donation, along with old clothes,” Mae shares. “Hindi kailangan ng maraming toys para maging masaya. Kapag dumadaan kami sa mga toy shops, walang iyakan at dramahan.”
The kids are also not allowed to have their own gadgets and they do not watch TV every day. Mae allows them screen time every weekend but with parental supervision. With limited access to gadgets, the two boys have instead learned to love books and reading.
Mae and her husband have also taught them about the value of money. “We don’t give them money, and hindi sila marunong manghingi ng pera, but we teach them how to save,” she says. “Ang panganay ko mayroong alkansiya. Tuwing may nagbibigay ng pera (ninong, ninang, kamag-anak), hulog agad sa alkansiya. ‘Yun ang ginagamit niyang pambili ng laruan kapag Pasko.”
Mae shares that she cleans her kids' closet every six months. Clothes that the kids have outgrown are placed inside a box and sent to the Philippines. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
Still a long way to go
Adopting a minimalist lifestyle has made their lives easier. PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
Mae says welcoming minimalism in their family’s life is a continuous learning process, especially for her who is new to the movement. She does research every day and reads views and opinions from different people from different walks of life.
But she cannot deny the good it has brought to their family. “It made us conscious of the environmental impact on consumerism,” she shares, adding that their family is now working on leading a zero-waste lifestyle as well.
"One time [in the grocery], nakipag-argue pa ako sa fish section dahil gusto nila ibalot ng cling wrap ang tupperware na nilagyan ko ng isda para hindi tumulo sa bag. Sabi ko, okay lang kasi may dala akong thermal bag at hindi naman ako maselan," she shares. "Gusto ko talaga bawasan ang paggamit ko ng plastic. 'Yung ibang gulay kasi nakabalot na sa plastic, wala na ako magagawa doon kaya ayoko na dagdagan ang plastic, kung pwede naman na wala.Wala pa kami doon sa zero plastic talaga, I just wish meron ditong open market, 'yung hindi nakabalot lahat ng gulay pero wala dito sa area namin."
Mae says they are far from being a zero-waste family, but she says, "at least kahit papaano nag-e-effort ako. In your own little way kahit pagdala lang ng ecobag tuwing namimili malaking tulong na yan. 'Yung hindi paggamit ng plastic straw o kaya yung pagdala ng mga reusable container every time may bibilhin kayo malaking bagay na yan kay Mother Earth." PHOTO BY courtesy of Mae Gamboa
Because they spend less time on cleaning, it opens more time to spend with their family and friends. Having a simple lifestyle also leads to better health, less stress, and clarity of mind. “Our children have also started to learn how to share with others. They are beginning to understand that sharing will give them something better in return, like friendship,” Mae says.
This story originally appeared on Smartparenting.com.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Realliving.com.ph editors.
More on Realliving.com.ph