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On Living Simply and Naturally

Six weeks living in a tent on the Arctic Ocean. Six weeks when every possession I owned served a clear and important function. Six weeks in the same clothes. Six weeks in an empty, nihilistic landscape.
These are the times I realise how much junk I have back in my “real” life.
So I enjoyed this piece from Zen habits about reducing the clutter in my life.

Learn to live a simpler, more natural life, and drop the pretenses one at a time. You’ll be glad you did.

A few ideas to get you started:

1. Dress: Do your clothes aim to impress? Do you have to keep a complicated, expensive wardrobe to maintain this image? How can you shed this need to impress, and just dress simply and functionally instead? I’mm not saying you need to dress in rags. But if you decide that you don’t need to impress anyone, you can drop a lot of your wardrobe “needs” and simplify things tremendously.

2. Grooming: I no longer worry about grooming as much as I once did. Now I have a shaved head, and my grooming tools are down to a reasonable minimum: soap, razor and shaving cream, deodorant, electric trimmer (for the hair). I don’t need hair products, aftershave, a comb, or many other grooming products. Of course, not everyone is going to shave their head, but going for a more natural look could simplify things.

3. Language: I know lots of people who use “impressive” language, often full of jargon or academic-speak or geek-speak. Well, that might impress some, but knowledgeable people know that you’re covering up a lack of real competence with complicated language. Speak simply, with plain language, and your real intelligence will shine through. You’ll also communicate better — a plus in my book.

4. Decorating: Almost every home I visit is filled with decorative things, perhaps meant to impress or convey a certain message about the home. I find that the simple, natural look is better — subtract as much as you can, until you are left with a minimum of simple, beautiful things. For example, my walls are covered by only three pieces of art (all done by my dad). Everything else in my house is functional furniture — no decorative anything.

5. Gifts: When we try to impress and keep up appearances, we can end up spending a lot of money on gifts, especially around the holidays but also on birthdays and other occasions. And while I think it’s great to show someone that you care with a gift, does it really need to be expensive? Can’t something home-made, or consumable, be just as nice? Or perhaps you can do something nice for someone, like a massage or chores or babysitting? Keep things simple, but show you care.

6. Work: Don’t do things at work to impress — you’ll end up doing things that are artificial and false, and often stretch too far and fail, or at least show your shortcomings. While there’s nothing wrong with having shortcomings (who doesn’t have them?), you should aim instead to do the best you can, not because you want to impress but because you want to feel good about the job you’ve done.

7. Transportation: Forget about an impressive car — go for minimalism and function. Maybe you don’t need a car at all — can public transportation or a bike suffice? I’mve been walking more, for transportation, because I no longer worry about what people will think of me when I’mm the only one in my town who walks places. As a result, I get more exercise, and I enjoy the outdoors more. Oh, and I help conserve resources a little more.

8. Devices: Do you have to have the latest and greatest gadget, not because you need it but because you want to show people you have it? I’mve done this many times. I bought a Macbook Air, telling myself that I needed a laptop (which I did) and that the Air was the best functional device for me because it was light and a Mac and fairly minimalist in function (I only need it for writing and Internet). But really I just loved its sleek and minimalist design. Pretension, not simplicity. Drop the pretension and get only what you need. (Btw, I don’t regret getting the Air — I really love using it and it works beautifully for my needs.)

There are many more ways you can live a simpler life by dropping artfulness in different areas. What areas have you changed by dropping pretenses? What areas would you like to change? Share in the comments!

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  1. Hamish Posted

    If I remember rightly you said in your first book that you had exactly the possessions you needed with you in your panniers, nothing more or less and everything in its place, or something to that effect. I was impressed. It’s so easy to build up clutter at home. I feel like I have a billion little possessions that each get used about once a year.

  2. Wow! Thanks for the great reminders. I have been going through the things in my room lately, trying to get rid of clutter. Keeping #1 and #4 in mind will definitely help me let go of some unneeded items! I’m printing this and putting it somewhere visible so I’m often reminded! 🙂

  3. baba ganush Posted

    Alistair, you are a tosser

  4. ANKIT KUMAR Jha Posted

    HI, HUMPHREYS Your this article is a real eye opener for one and all.Accumulation of materialistic possessions serve little purpose in life, But simple living and natural bent of life is what that’s important.

  5. When I come back from work, tired, reading your writing is a great source of energy for me,thanks Al.

  6. Swanand Apte Posted

    All things you acquire that are more than your needs become headaches one way or the other.



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