Or, How I Made Room for Life

For the next 12 months, I’ll be conducting a personal experiment that I’m calling A Year of Living Without.

It’s my way of finding out what’s truly necessary, of simplifying my life, of making room for other things.

I’m testing the boundaries of my needs. It’s good to test your personal boundaries now and then (or, if you’re me, all the time).

So what’s the Year of Living Without?

Each month, I’ll go the whole month without one thing I do every day. Something that I tend to not want to give up, for various reasons.

I’ll give up something for a month, then evaluate whether it was something I enjoyed giving up, whether it’s worth leaving it out of my life, or if I want to put it back in after the month’s over. The next month, I’ll try giving up something else (see the list below).

The 12 Things I’ll Live Without

Each month, I’ll try a different experiment:

  1. July: Coffee. I drink about 1-2 cups each morning, and it’s the first thing I do each morning after I meditate. I’ve quit coffee a couple times in the past, as experiments, but haven’t found it to be useful or enjoyable. I’m going to give it another try. Replacement habit: tea. Update: Read my report here.
  2. August: Sitting for longer than 30 mins at a time. I work online. I also read a lot online. And do research, pay bills, watch some videos, etc. You get the picture — a typical life in the Western world, probably. I’m going to ban myself from sitting for too long — after 30 minutes, I have to get up for 15 minutes and do something else. Sitting too long is killing us. Replacement habit: yoga (at least for a few of the breaks). Update: Read my report here.
  3. September: Video entertainment. While I gave up cable TV years ago, Eva & I still watch shows on iTunes/Netflix for about an hour or so at night (without commercials). I also watch stuff on YouTube once in awhile, though not much. I’ll cut all of this out. Replacement habit: read books. Update: Read my report here.
  4. October: Sugar. I love vegan desserts. I don’t eat them much anymore, but for this month, I’ll eat them not at all. Replacement habit: veggies, fruit. Update: Read my report here.
  5. November: Computer/Internet in morning (except to write). I use the computer for email, to read longer articles and blog posts, to pay bills, to manage my tasks, etc. I won’t be able to do any of that before noon. Only write, or do non-computer stuff. Replacement habit: write a novel. Update: Read my report here.
  6. December: Refined carbs. Honestly, I don’t do many refined carbs anymore, but I do “cheat” with the kids now and then. For this month, I’m going to ban them completely. Should be fun to do during the holidays! Replacement habit: veggies. Update: Read my report here.
  7. January: Using Internet all day (except to post writing). Similar to November, except it will be all day long (including evenings). This means no email in January either, probably, though I might need to find a system to keep my Sea Change membership going during the month. Replacement habit: write book. Update: Read my report here.
  8. February: Cell phone. For a long time, I had no iPhone, only a dumb phone. It was completely good enough for my needs. Then Eva bought me an iPhone, and I use it fairly regularly (not addicted). But I’m going to go a month without using my iPhone (or any other cell phone). Note that we don’t have a landline. Replacement habit: drawing. Update: Read my report here.
  9. March: Alcohol. I drink 1-2 glasses of red wine a night, usually with Eva. On rare occasions I’ll have a beer. Not this month. Update: Read my report at the bottom of this post.
  10. April: Buying new things. When I was in debt, I was really frugal. I haven’t been as much of a tightwad now that I’m completely debt-free because it’s not as necessary. This month, I’ll buy nothing new. Update: Read my report at the bottom of this post.
  11. May: Restaurants Food Reward. Basically, I’ll be eating the same very bland foods over and over again, with no variety. That means I’ll eat the same three unseasoned foods every day, and it will be exceptionally flavorless and unvaried. No salt, added fats, frying or stir-frying, spices, mixing foods together. No fun with food this month.
  12. June: Computer. No computer at all this month. I’ll write with pen & paper, and maybe ask someone to post things for me on Zen Habits. Yikes. Replacement habit: meditating, stretching, writing, drawing.

This list might change as the year progresses and I find other things I’d rather give up, but this is what I’m planning for now. I’ll do at least one post each month about what I’ve learned.

At the end of each month, I’ll decide whether I want to keep doing without that month’s Living Without item. It will really depend on how the experiment went.

Some things I’ve already given up:

  • Owning a car
  • Meat
  • Dairy & Eggs
  • Cable TV
  • Having a lot of stuff
  • Fast food
  • Facebook
  • Packing a lot of stuff when I travel

I’ve enjoyed giving all these things up. They’re not sacrifices, but a joy.

Why Am I Doing This?

If you ever thought something like, “Oh, I could never give up cheese!” (or coffee, or sugar, or your car, or TV, or Facebook, or the Internet), then you know what I’m faced with. I’m faced with a year of this reaction, inside myself.

And I’m faced with a year of learning that, perhaps, none of it is true. We can give up that which we hold dearly to. We can push those boundaries, and feel them push back, and be OK with the push.

I’m doing this for myself, to learn about myself, but also to show others that our initial reaction is false. We can give it up.

And in the process, make room for something that just might be better. You’ll never know until you try.

Q&As and Suggestions

Some questions you might have:

Q: How can you give up the Internet when you work online?
A: Well, I plan to still write, but do little else. I’ll figure out a system where I can write but not do anything else online. I haven’t worked out the details yet.

Q: Isn’t this a bit extreme?
A: Possibly, depending on context. Honestly, I don’t think some of this will be incredibly difficult, but the computer-related ones will be hard (and alcohol seems like it’ll be missed as well). And I’m not afraid of a little extremes — when we push ourselves a bit, we learn about ourselves.

Q: I’ve already been going without these things for years!
A: Awesome! I don’t claim to be the first to do these things. This is simply a series of personal experiments, to see what I can learn. I would love to learn from you — share your story with me on Twitter or Google+, give me some tips.

Q: What will you do with your new free time?
A: I’m interested to find out! I hope it’ll be used for writing, reading, exercise, yoga, meditation, and spending time with Eva & the kids. We’ll see!

Q: Coffee? Dude, you have lost your mind …
A: Yes, I love coffee. But it’s the things I am most resistant to giving up that interest me the most. Is my reaction — “I can’t/shouldn’t/don’t wanna give that up!” — true, or can I prove it false? What can I learn about myself? If we only listen to the little scared child within ourselves, we never learn anything interesting.

Q: Are you giving up each item permanently? Or are you only going to abstain from the items on your list until said month is up?
A: We’ll see. I’m only committing to abstaining from each item until said month is up, but if I like it I plan to continue the experiment for as long as it feels right. I’ll share my findings, and which ones I keep, as I go.

Q: I’m wondering if you don’t eat refined carbs and meat… What do you eat? I really like to know with a weekly menu example.
A: Well, I’m vegan, and I rarely eat refined carbs these days (maybe 1-2 times a week unless I’m traveling). But my meals might go something like this:

  • Breakfast: Ezekiel sprouted grain (flourless) cereal with soymilk, berries, raw nuts, flaxseed
  • Lunch: Black beans with brown rice & green veggies
  • Snack: Nuts and fruits, or green smoothie with green veggies, frozen berries, soymilk, almond butter, banana
  • Dinner: Tempeh stir fried with kale, olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper

Q: How does one meditate after waking and before coffee, without falling back asleep!?
A: Well, I sit upright on a cushion. If you lie down, you’ll fall asleep. I’m also not super tired as long as I get 6-7 hours sleep. Each person is different.

Q: I can’t see ever giving up my cellphone for the peace of mind it brings me knowing that my elderly mother can always reach me and the same for my adult kids who live far from us.
A: Well, I hear that. I have non-grown kids and a wife, and it does worry me a bit to not have a cell phone when I’m out. However, the times when I’ve actually needed the cell phone for such a dreaded emergency has been zero. So it’s not a grounded fear, at least not in my case. Every person has a different situation, though.

Q: On the coffee habit, are you replacing with a caffeine-free tea? That would seem to make a big difference.
A: No, I plan to drink mostly green teas and oolongs. The caffeine isn’t an issue for me — I’m used to a lot of caffeine so the amount in tea isn’t really noticeable. I also don’t usually get a crash in the afternoon.

“Sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a time” – I think that is a great idea. I will certainly do this next month. Will you use any special software on the computer or outside of the computer as a reminder ?

Q: Sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a time — will you use any special software on the computer or outside of the computer as a reminder?
A: Yes, I’ll probably use a computer reminder. I’ve used Mindful Mynah in the past and like it, but I’ll figure that out when I start.

Suggestion from reader: Perhaps I would just downgrade to a vintage no frills phone, instead of a phone.
Leo: Yes, I had a no-frills phone until about a month ago, and liked it. Even that’s not always necessary.

Suggestion from reader: When you give up watching movies with your wife in the evening, maybe replace that “together” time with playing a game or some other activity that you do together. I imagine the reading would replace the alone movie watching you do, but was just thinking about the together time.
Leo: That’s a great point. Will talk to Eva about this.

Suggestion from reader: For your month without computer, may I suggest you try writing with a fountain pen? Anything with a reasonably fine nib and good flow will do. You might like how it glides effortlessly across the paper, how your thoughts literally pour out in liquid ink. Add a cup of tea and you could have a great morning ritual.
Leo: I love this idea!

Suggestion from reader: Two words: walking desk. Saves you from the long sit. My husband and I created one for me very inexpensively using a thrift store treadmill. 
Leo: I’ll consider this. I’ve tried something similar and found I want to sit every now and then because my legs get tired after awhile.

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