Minimalist Interview: Cheryl and Roland Magyar

Homemade shoes, Cheryl and Roland Magyar
Shoes handmade from rope. Photo: Cheryl and Roland Magyar

Meet Cheryl and Roland Magyar

Today’s post is an interview with eco-minimalists Cheryl and Roland Magyar, who blog at Handcrafted Travellers. They live on an organic farmstead in Hungary with their 3-year old daughter, Csermely.

Your family has what most of us would consider a radically simple lifestyle. For my readers who aren’t familiar with your story, how would you describe your way of life in a nutshell?

Radical . . . In a way yes, one could call us that, but how we like to think of it, is being committed to our principles and chosen lifestyle. Perhaps the best fitting and shortest description of our way of living is self-reliance, but as you all know, this is nothing new, that’s how people used to live for ages, before professionalization – later yet corporations – tore societies apart.

Mass production creates uniform thoughts and that’s exactly what we are consciously trying to break away from. Our strategy is that of questioning the status quo, informing ourselves and creatively adding on to sustainable alternatives. However we do not sit back with that much – just philosophizing: for now the two of us, but increasingly involving our toddler age daughter in the decision making, are proactive about turning ideas into physical reality, all the while using exclusively natural materials that could be worked by hand.

When and how did your family first become interested in simple living?

Around eight years ago we left the Seattle Metro with our backpacks and about twenty boxes set to be shipped overseas to our new homestead in Hungary. Leaving many things behind, for very practical reasons, was our first gentle “self-pressure” towards a minimalist life, but our heads were still cluttered. Our boxes arrived three months later and when we opened them back up, we realized we didn’t need much of that either.

Once you made the decision to simplify, did you jump in all at once or begin with gradual changes?

It was such a gradual, subliminal process, that we didn’t even know it was happening, until awhile later when our minds caught up with our purging hands. This involved having to deal with inheritance from our own past, as well as the one from strangers associated with the purchased farmhouse. We came to the conclusion that it was not worth it to be enslaved by the past at the expense of our imagined future: the life we wanted to live, versus the life that was handed down to us.

Generally speaking, how do Hungarians feel about the simplicity movement? Do your neighbors see you as “crazy Americans” for giving up a “better life”?

Sadly, Hungarians don’t “feel about” a movement like this. By and large they ignore the possible existence of such a way of life undertaken voluntarily, let alone joyfully. Our impression is that a society which has only come out of the psychological oppressions of communism just a generation ago, has not managed to break away yet (in masses) from the dream of acquiring material goods, albeit this is obviously a global phenomenon to overcome.

In answer to the second part of the question, it’s more Americans that find us strange for living the way we do and where we do, family included. Given Roland’s Hungarian ethnicity, the move wasn’t off-kilter to us. However, eight years later our family history is about to repeat itself on a different level: we are moving again, to the other hemisphere with our one handmade hemp backpack for the three of us. . .

Around a year and a half ago, your household became chemical-free. What has been the biggest challenge involved with avoiding synthetic chemicals?

Actually, by that time it did not seem much of a challenge at all. For over a decade now we haven’t used synthetic household cleaners. Instead we employ the beneficial properties of water, vinegar, baking soda, essential oils and a biodynamic, 100% biodegradable liquid dish soap. For a long time we brushed our teeth with mineral powder, more recently switched over to twigs and roots. For our hair we use herbal infusions as rinses.

The last thing we got rid of was a tire patching glue for repairing our bicycles (we do not own a car, even though we live out in the country, but have access to public transportation). We outsourced the work to a professional bike repair shop instead. The sustainability of a bike tire that requires so much maintenance is a whole other issue.

Homemade clothing, Cheryl and Roland Magyar
Happy in her handmade clothes. Photo: Cheryl and Roland Magyar

I understand your daughter has worn only handmade clothing and you and your husband are trying to switch your wardrobes over to homemade as well. Do you make all of the clothing yourself or do you buy some from others?

Cheryl spins, knits and crochets. We both felt, weave, sew and tailor. It had been a wonderful experience to start with our daughter’s wardrobe, to make smaller mistakes, to grow our skills and to understand how clothes are fashioned. All the finished items are our own creations though we do buy some raw materials that fit our standards, organic fabric and wool, from others. We believe in self-reliance, not self-sufficiency, so it has not been our goal to raise our own fibers.

For other objects a household needs such as utensils, vessels, etc., (materials like forged iron, ceramics, glass or stainless steel) we would be willing and happy to work with conscious artisans who enjoy their work.

Totally off topic, but how is your daughter’s name, Csermely, pronounced?

Cser like in the word cherry and mely like in mayonnaise. Hungarian is a difficult language to speak, though she is bilingual and switching back and forth beautifully. Literally translated her name means “little brook.”

I know she’s very young, but has she noticed her family’s lifestyle is unusual? If so, how does she feel about it?

She is almost three and a half now and her great happiness is telling us that she finds nothing strange about the way we live. In fact she often startles others with her calmness, her kindness and vitality all at the same time. We go out to theatre productions, she was only two when we went first to see a ballet, we go the cinema, we shop together at the market, ride the bus with society and she gets to see life from her own perspective. Besides her handcrafted, natural toys we have started to introduce her to the creative side of digital technology, after all she sees us do that for part of the day as well. We spend a lot of time together which she takes for granted at this age, but why wouldn’t she have the right to do so?

What, if anything, do you miss from the typical American lifestyle?

Simple things, like spicy Mexican dishes that we can’t find the proper ingredients for here. Aged cheeses (with our mind of today we would opt for A2 milk products), gluten-free breakfast sausages, maple syrup, a good organic whole bean coffee selection, so certain flavors deeper ingrained in our food memory. We miss the ability to go hiking in inspiring places, the area where we live now is agricultural flatlands, but that is something that can be changed. As we have found out – location (social fabric) and a sense of community are more important than one might initially realize.

What old habits have you found the most difficult to change?

When you open up your mind, your whole world changes in front of you. Everything changes with no exception. Once you have decided that simple living is the way to go, going back to old habits makes no sense.

Knowing that most of my readers aren’t likely to simplify as much as your family has, which changes do you feel are most important for a family that wants to simplify while maintaining a more typical lifestyle?

The first thing to understand is that you {probably} already have enough – in the material sense anyway, most likely you have too much. The second thing you need to do is get rid of the negative emotions and items that clutter your life. Thirdly, start replacing your few things with keepsake quality, make it by hand when you can, or have it made for you – customize your life to your own personal needs. After all you don’t need much, why not enjoy life on your own terms?

 Want to learn more about sustainable living?

Cheryl and Roland are sustainable life designers who help individuals, families and businesses return to simpler, natural ways of life and work. They have co-created an e-course – Natural Simple Living: Crafting Natural Solutions for Your Healthy Life and Home and are also happy to e-nspire you with 21 days of Everyday Simplicity.

14 thoughts on “Minimalist Interview: Cheryl and Roland Magyar

  1. It’s true I do have enough and in some areas I still have too much. I’m not ready to brush my teeth with twigs, but strive to live better with less impact. It’s hard to do but I feel I have to do my part. Great interview with Roland and Cheryl.

    • There are little things we can all do and we know that you are doing great! The twigs and roots are something quite recent for us, a little intrigue, but we do enjoy them. We had volunteers once that brushed their teeth with clay and we found that strange at the time, there is something to learn each and every day, one just needs to stay open minded.

      • I did read your post on the twigs and just couldn’t picture using them myself. I am already seen as pretty strange and out there so I think I will pass on twigs to brush my teeth before my kids think I’ve lost my mind. I love how you are so free to try new things. I cringed as I looked at the picture of the bugs you ate. You are definitely more adventurous than I am.

    • Thanks, Joy. Aren’t the homemade clothes great? I knit, but other than accessories, my handmade clothing consists of 1 cardigan, 3 vests and half a dozen pair of socks. I do want to expand the number of homemade clothes I have, but can’t picture having them all homemade.

      • That is already a wonderful start to your wardrobe Christy! We can picture you in all handmade, doesn’t need to be made by your hands alone and it can even take years, but it can be done 🙂 Thanks for having us!

        • I guess I should take a longer view. I do hope to learn to sew someday, so that would certainly make it easier / faster than knitting everything!

    • Pleased to meet you as well, Joy. As we are ready to make a move to New Zealand our lifestyle that we will take with us will likely be in sharper contrast with a presumably more established consumer culture than here in Hungary. Life is definitely interesting, exciting and joyful all in one!

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.