Friday, August 25, 2006

more on simple living
a dream and cutting down possessions

For decades I thought that when I got close to retirement I would get a few acres of land maybe an hour out of town with a small low-upkeep house; drill a well, set up solar panels, dig a garden, plant fruit trees, and acquire some livestock. A few years ago I started thinking that this would be a lot of work—daily chores, upkeep, always taking care of something that needed doing and it could be a real ball-and-chain if I wanted to go off for a month or so now and then. By simplifying my wants and getting a small trailer, living out on public lands, I have the quiet and solitude, wildlife, stellar views and time. This has proved to be most fulfilling. I only do basic upkeep and rarely do I do little projects. I’d rather go for a hike. Being able to follow the geese, I can also live mostly outside the year round. Living on a small homestead would definitely be rewarding but there is the time factor. At this point in my life I want as much time to do whatever I want whenever I want. Remember that I look at life as an hourglass with a limited amount of sand—and it only runs one way.
At some point I might get a few acres out in the sticks and spend half the year there living in whatever rig I presently have. I’ll roll in with my small low-upkeep house and solar panel and after a few months, roll out to follow the geese. We’ll see.

How many things are there which I do not want.

As to possessions, we sure do seem to accumulate a lot of stuff as we go through life. Getting rid of this excess can be tough. We get attached to our possessions and almost bond to some of them, creating an emotional battle when we consider giving them up. We have memories and emotions associated with possessions. We spent money on the items, which meant we missed other opportunities to spend that money. We fear we might have an occasion to use the clothes in the future, or might lose 30 lbs. and fit the clothes in the future. We fear an uncertain future, when we might need the possessions because we won’t have the money to buy more. But stop and think for a minute. We’re talking about the past and the future here. Focus on the present, without the need for all these possessions. If we get stuck in the past, we are missing the opportunities of the present. Get out on some adventures and build new memories. And fears of an uncertain future can also be nixed if we focus on the present. The future hasn’t arrived yet—the present has. We have no idea what the future will bring so worrying about it is a waste of time. Deal with it when you get there. Instead, focus on living now, in the present. And when you do that, you realize you don’t need most of these possessions. All you need is to make the most of this moment, right now. Sure, it might feel good to have a lot, to have that feeling of ‘plenty’ but if instead we focus on quality, and not quantity, we can get an even better pleasure. Having a few good things is so much better than having a lot of things. Enjoying small pleasures, now, is better than the feeling that possessions give us. Just be sure you make good use of all this free time you’ll be acquiring. So focus on the present, and let the past and future fade away. And in doing so, we can banish our emotional ties to possessions—let them go—now. I know it’s not easy, having gone through it, but it can be done. When I started (and continue) to simplify my life and greatly reduced my possessions, I had no idea of how good it would feel to have so little. What I do have—is a vast amount of time. And I’m using it to do what I want.

The true way to gain much, is never to desire to gain too much. He is not rich that possesses much, but he that coves no more; and he is not poor that enjoys little, but he that wants too much.
Francis Beau

One incentive to start weeding out the excess is to think about the costs of owning all that stuff: cleaning, maintaining, repairing, replacing, working to pay for it and insure it, reducing the time we have to spend doing things we want to do, and on-and-on. Once one decides to trim down the excess in their life, you have the joy of getting it all out the door: posting items up on ebay and craigslist, listing them in classifieds, setting up yard sales, dealing with buyers, taking items to a thrift shop or friends and relatives—a real fun time. NOT!
To recycle items, you might want to set up a table out front with a sign saying ‘free stuff-please take me home.’ Whenever you come up with items that aren’t worth much or you can’t find a home for, put them out on the table and you can be sure they will be scoffed up. You also might want to chain the table to a tree. If this would not be acceptable in your neighborhood, just set up the free table while having your yard sales.
I don’t know, but most people seem to need ideas on how to reduce their possessions. They ask others how they did it or read a book about it. I can’t quite grasp this. Just do it. You have way too much stuff. Get rid of it. Whether it’s furniture, clothes, books, knick-knacks, kitchenware, tools, fat, whatever. Take the initiative and get started. Do it all over the next couple months. It’s your life; you don’t need someone to hold your hand for something as inconsequential as this. It’s just ‘things.’ You have no idea of how good it feels to get down to just basic stuff. It might sound hokey, but there is a true sense of liberation and release. And you’ll have SO much extra time to do the things you most enjoy.

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful
or believe to be beautiful.
William Morris

Books were tough for me to get rid of. If it helps, I’ve never regretted getting rid of any particular book. I’ve kept some and can go to the library if I want to reread one that I passed on or pick up an inexpensive used copy, which I can later pass on to a friend or exchange with another camper. Tools for my silverwork were another big problem. Whatever your material weakness is, find ways to purge them and the less important items in your clutter. Either focus on a class of items or tackle a drawer, box, shelf, or cabinet—nothing bigger than a closet—forget tackling a whole room at one time. When tackling a room, I found myself holding onto way too much so I had to waste time reweeding. Or set small blocks of time aside for cutting down, 15 minutes or so, and be merciless. Look at and assess every object in your house. Keep picking at the task with regular mini-purges so you don’t get overwhelmed. Otherwise you will not get rid of all the excess. It can become very discouraging. Think of this cutting down as a gift to yourself instead of a chore—it’s an unburdening. Again, it might sound hokey, but you’ll experience a sense of freedom, a lightness when you are done. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t gone through this myself. But one has to be open enough to feel it. If the status-quo ring is firmly embedded in your nose—you are not going to get it. Just buy a big RV and bring it all with you—including a full size kitchen sink.

Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words
in the English language,
and yet one that we are culturally cut off from
understanding and enjoying.
The consumption society has made us feel
that happiness lies in having things,
and has failed to teach us the happiness
of not having things.
Elise Boulding

One aspect that one has to deal with when cutting down is the ‘waste of money’. Many hold onto stuff because they feel it would be a waste of good money if they got rid of it. They bought these items with hard-earned money, and they don’t want that money to go to waste, so they’ve been holding onto them. Sound familiar? It’s a burden that keeps one from freeing yourself of these unneeded possessions—it forces you to keep the space they occupy, to maintain these possessions, to constantly see them every day even if you don’t want them, to walk around them or trip over them or live in a cramped, cluttered space. This is a burden, paying penance for your initial wasted expenditure of cash. But—the waste was when you bought it, not when you get rid of it. You bought something you didn’t really need— and the real waste would be to ignore this and not learn from it.

Another thought is to rent a 5x10 storage locker for a year and fill it with stuff you are not quite sure of. Go off on a loop for a year and when you get back, you should have a pretty good idea of exactly what you need to keep. Also get a good size safe deposit box. Fill it with small valuable or memorable stuff you want to hold onto but would rather not have in your trailer. I’m not talkin’ a lot of papers here—but other kinds of stuff.

Keep on simplifying. Stop buying things that aren’t necessary, stop browsing in stores and online, and stop looking through catalogs. Why cut-down if you keep adding? Cut down on what you feel you need to keep track of and work towards fewer needs. Get out of debt and set up automatic bill paying. Stop worrying about goals and keeping track of them and the steps required along the way. Make exercise a habit so you don’t even have to plan for it. Think about cutting back on following the news. It’s all just as much an attitude as a lifestyle. Do things meaningful to you and develop a mindset of contentedness.

You’ll find far fewer distractions in your day–to-day life. This can lead to one aspect that many are not comfortable with—you start to face yourself. It’s a given, with all this free time, to do some reflection. You can’t go through life mindlessly any more, hiding from life busying yourself with all sorts of useless things. You are going to look at yourself and you might not like everything you see. You’ll come out stronger and at peace with your life once you work through it. But it’s not overly pleasant. This might be one of those times when it is better to be delusional—then you’ll just think everything is okay with yourself and that you could not possibly be a better person.

Scale down and spend your time in new experiences—rather than with your possessions.
No matter the skewed perception in the media today, downsizing and living simply is a stellar way to live.

A little humor from Jim B, George Carlin talks about ‘stuff.’

Make time for what is important to you by eliminating the unnecessary.


Sunday, August 20, 2006

simple living in 95 sq ft

Simplicity is making our way through life with just enough baggage. Life can be pretty easy if we don’t complicate it by striving towards excess. Greater simplicity frees time, energy, and attention for personal growth and other satisfying activities. It’s like renewing one's appreciation of life.

You have succeeded in life
when all you really want is only what you really need.
Vernon Howard

We need little when we are directly in touch with life. It is when we remove ourselves from direct and wholehearted participation in life that emptiness and boredom can creep in. Getting rid of things that one does not need is participating in a symbolic act of releasing everything one does not need in one's life. One can have a hard time reducing one’s needs if one does not have something more fulfilling inside—life is lived from within.

Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is the noble art of leaving things undone.
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
Lin Yutang

I’ve scaled down from houses to large apartments to a fifth wheel (my Jayco on the left), to presently, this 17’ Casita travel trailer that is pulled with a Jeep Cherokee. At each reduction, I thought it was not possible to do with any less to live comfortably. I have always been wrong in this.

The sculptor produces the beautiful statue
by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed—
it is a process of elimination.
Elbert Hubbard

Simplicity is how one actually lives. I spend most of my time camping in secluded spots out in national forests or on BLM and state lands. My ‘yard’ is always changing. Living in a small trailer enables me to get down all kinds of narrow dirt roads for some absolutely stellar camping spots. And the small size is not restrictive if one is of the mindset that he does not so much live in the camper as just outside of it. But then, one needs to follow the geese—or you are going to freeze or roast your butt off.
To live successfully anywhere outside the mainstream it helps to have an unconventional spirit coupled with down-to-earth practicality and the ability to balance these.
Simple living entails quieting the mind. Tune into what one is presently doing, not thinking about what else needs to get done, what friends you need to touch base with, what to add to the town-run list, or whatever. Solitude helps. It’s easy if one is living with only pets but it’s important to find time for it when living with another. Solitude in and of itself is cleansing to the soul.

We tend to ‘run on automatic’, acting in habitual and preprogrammed ways along with the habitual and preprogrammed ways of perceiving and responding. It can be difficult to tune into this since we live in an almost constant state of mental distraction. First we need to develop an awareness—a waking up—and then we can see the practical relevance of living more consciously. It can feel like letting go—letting go of old ideas and old ways of doing things. Letting go of old ways of thinking enables us to see things in new ways. One needs to learn how to enjoy the simple things and to appreciate what you already have. It takes time but as one becomes more conscious of it, you’ll find more contentment and less need to be entertained.

To find the universal elements enough;
to find the air and the water exhilarating;
to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter...
to be thrilled by the stars at night;
to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring—
these are some of the rewards of the simple life.
John Burroughs

Being too wrapped up in our things and busyness leads us away from ourselves and our experience in the moment. We can learn to live more in tune with the earth, which, in itself, opens up a new world if we are not already into the Outdoors. Living simply is also more conducive to personal and spiritual growth. Like the old Eastern saying, ‘Simplicity reveals the master’. Penetrating behind our continuous stream of thought is stressed by every major consciousness tradition in the world: Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Sufi, Zen, etc. We can begin a process of learning a natural quietness of mind and openness of heart. Something that I would like to develop but probably won’t attain in this life. If I come to believe in reincarnation—I can then shoot for two out of three.

Abraham Yehoshua Heschel said, ‘There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.’ Sounds good.

live simply, be healthy and fit, and live the life you love