“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein
Last December I became a nomad in the interest of maximizing the amount of personal money I had to invest in my start up. I packed up all my stuff, put it in storage, and relied on the benevolence of good friends and their spare couches and guest rooms. It’s been quite an adventure. Ten months in, I’ve stayed at seven different places and I have to say that the experience has changed my life for the better.
I’ve come up with my own living philosophy called “zero footprint.” It means that unless the person I’m staying with actively looks for signs of a guest, they can’t tell anyone is staying with them. That means always washing every dish, wiping down every surface I use every time (sinks, counters, tables, etc), putting my shoes away, never leaving an item of clothing lying around, keeping all my food neatly stored in a cupboard, packing up all my things after working in the living room, drying and folding my laundry right away, and generally being obsessed with neatness. If it wasn’t there when I entered the space, it won’t be there when I leave. It’s become like a game to me and I hear echos of my parents telling me to clean up when I was a kid. They’ll be happy to know that I’ve become the neatest person I know.
In the process I’ve found that less is more. Living out of a suitcase and trying to take up no space in someone else’s apartment forces you to think about every item that you carry.
I love fashion. I generally have a much bigger wardrobe than most men I know and I have the largest collection of pink shoes you’ve ever seen (pink is my favorite color). Living yout of one suitcase forced me to carefully think about the clothes I do and don’t wear. Over the months, I’ve been able to fine tune my clothing so that I only carry clothes that I actually wear on a regular basis. I buy less clothing and what I do buy is high quality. I’m down to 3 pairs of shoes – a pair of sneakers for the gym, a pair of sneakers for daily wear, and a pair of dress shoes for when I go to networking functions where casual attire is frowned upon (lots of events like that in Hawaii). I have just enough gym gear, underwear, and socks to last me a week before I have to wash them.
I never have to unpack my suitcase because I know the location of every neatly folded piece of clothing in there. A year ago, I was not this way. I couldn’t go on a week long business trip without packing for 5 hours just to turn my suitcase upside down as soon as I got to the hotel. Now, I can literally pack up and be ready to live in a different location within 30 minutes.
Food wise is probably where I’ve had to adjust the most. I don’t like eating out. I’m very conscious of what I put in my body and I like to cook. In the past, I’ve spent $160 at Whole Foods to cook one meal for two people. Needless to say, I don’t do that anymore. The first person I stayed with in San Francisco had never used her stove before. I cooked every day and I’m pretty sure that drove her crazy. I’ve strained pasta with a bowl and used aluminum foil to cover a frying pan for lack of lids. I’ve developed a new appreciation for the versatility of zip locks bags since most places I stay don’t have any tupperware or storage containers for left overs.
Since I have to leave no trace, I clean while I cook. I’ve found this to be an incredibly efficient way of maximizing my time in the kitchen. In fact, I derive an almost zen like enjoyment out of doing the dishes – something I used to hate in the past. Doing the dishes is one of the few experiences in your life where you start with chaos and end with a clean stack of orderliness. Money can’t buy therapy like that.
I go to Costco every two weeks to buy meats and a few select bulk items. I know exactly how much I’ll eat in two weeks, so I only buy what I need. I go to Safeway every couple days to buy fresh vegetables and other perishables. I cook every two days, carefully portioning and saving my leftovers in ziplocks bags that I can take with me where ever I go to work. I’m a health nut, so I cook a lot of quinoa, vegetables, and chicken. Because I try to keep it easy, I switch up the marinade and meat type, but everything else pretty much stays the same.
In the process of simplifying my life I’ve become extremely organized. I’ve taken the time to look at everything I do and pair down what I don’t need. I no longer try to buy every business book that comes out that looks interesting. Instead I focus on quality and spend a lot more time researching what’s going to give me the highest return for my time investment. The books I do read I savor and often highlight extensively.
Since I no longer have my Mac Mini media center with a quarter terabyte of music, I realized that I don’t want a quarter terabyte of music because I never know what to listen to. Instead I’ve focused on organizing and carrying a small selection of really good music. This is actually pretty easy, just sort your iTunes by plays. I bet you regularly listen to only a small fraction of your music.
I went to the trouble of organizing my Google reader account so that now I only read a handful of blogs (I still subscribe to hundreds of blogs, I just don’t read them too often). I unfollowed the 5000 people I was following on Twitter and only follow the people I’m actually interested in.
I’ve found that quality over quantity applies in almost every aspect of my life. At the gym, I focus on the quality of each movement, trying to get the most out of each repetition. I don’t try to power my way through ten reps just because ten is a round number. I listen to my body and carefully push it as far as it will go, maximizing my strength and muscle gains. By focusing on the quality of my workouts instead of the quantity, I’ve gotten into the best shape of my life and feel more in tune with my body than ever before. I used to hurt myself two to three times a year. I haven’t sustained a gym injury in over a year.
Being a permanent guest forces you to be extremely mindful. It takes a lot of effort to remain welcome in someone’s household rent free for months at a time. I take the time to think about every action I take and listen to every word spoken to me. In the process I’ve become very aware of my environment and the people in it. I’ve come to really appreciate the editorial output of my close friends. Because I activity seek less, I listen more so that I can learn from other people’s experiences.
I’ve come to really appreciate every single thing in my life. I take time every day to be grateful for the things I have. I’ve never genuinely felt this way before. I honestly step back on a daily basis and just feel joyful inside. Part of this is due to a change in perspective, but I think a big part of it is due to the fact that I’ve paired down so much stuff in my life that everything has a place. Without so much junk cluttering my life, I truly appreciate everything I have.
I’ve never felt more alive.
[ photo: kevinbluer ]
2 thoughts on “Less is More Part I: Lifestyle”
I had a similar experience last year. Being on the road for 6 months forced me to think about things I really needed to “survive”. I came to the conclusion that I really did not need much. That in general, we don’t need much to truly be happy. Even now that I am back, most of my stuff are still in my storage unit…
I never felt happier than then… with just my backpack and the freedom of the road. Just living with the bare minimum made me focus on things that were truly important – the experiences and the people around me. It definitely made me more mindful and grateful!
Thanks for sharing your experience!
yeah, isn’t that funny how most of your stuff is still in storage. all those things you can’t live without…. until you realize that you can. the funny thing is how hard it is to let go. i have no problem archiving the stuff and not seeing it for years. but i could never throw it away. lol.