Back to Simplicity

The first two decades of my life were pretty minimalist.  The second two decades were massive consumption.  I’m now trying to reverse the cycle.

As a child, my family and I went tent camping often and we took many road trip vacations during our Summer breaks.  We only took the things that we needed to live on the road for a bit.  One of the most memorable trips was a two-week camping road trip from St. Louis to the Pacific Northwest.  We tent camped every night, often in one of our many national parks along the way.  The deep blue waters of Crater Lake in  Oregon and the unbelievably large redwoods in Northern California are among some of my greatest childhood memories.  My dad drove our red pickup through the middle of a redwood that had been tunneled through.  Another fallen tree had been made into a ramp large enough that a logging truck with semi-trailer had parked on it.  In hindsight, it was a pretty epic trip.

Our pickup truck had a single bench seat and a camper shell containing all of our camping gear.  I traveled in the camper shell on a plywood platform with a thin piece of foam that my dad had constructed.  The sliding windows between the truck and the camper shell had a white vinyl seal that allowed the air conditioning to seep into the camper shell.  I could only feel the air if I was within a foot or so of the window so more often than not I rode lying flat with my head poking through the back window.  The platform was essentially a launching pad and I was a missile pointed right at the windshield.

Even my daily life was often like minimalist camping.  After my birth, my parents brought me home from the hospital to a small one room log cabin home with a wood burning stove, an out-house, and our water came from a water well faucet outside.  We didn’t live there for very long, but I never lived in a large house growing up.  When I was about 11 my parents opened a small business about four hours from where we lived.  My mom and I moved to a small 15 foot pull behind RV next to my grandparent’s house for about six months while my dad commuted on the weekends.  My room was my bunk bed.  Talk about minimalism.  My bedrooms were always pretty small, but that was the smallest.  I never had an opportunity or the space to collect a lot of things, but I had the things that I needed.  Instead of collecting things, I collected experiences.

Fast forward to my adult life.  I’m married with four children.  I now have a large home and have accumulated way more than I know what to do with.  I’m not even sure how it happened really.  Just one trip after another bringing home gadgets that are outdated within a few months, tools that rarely get used, clothes that never get worn, furniture that is just a platform for dust, and on and on.  It has been an unconscious flurry of consumption for two decades probably driven by my lack of having “things” during my first two decades.

I started reading about minimalism a couple of months ago.  However, it was a backpacking trip to Yellowstone National Park a few months prior to that which sparked the fire to reverse the cycle of consumption.

During the Summer of 2016 my oldest son and I completed an eight-day backpacking trip through the Yellowstone backcountry.  We hiked over 90 miles through some of the most remote wilderness in the lower 48 states.    Carrying everything you need to survive in the wilderness for eight-days can be a bit daunting.  Even though I have a lifetime of camping experience this was the first long-distance wilderness adventure that I had ever done, and it was in bear country no less.  We planned and trained for six months.  Ironically, our carry-everything-on-our-backs adventure also drove more consumption.  We had to buy lightweight backpacks, lightweight tents, lightweight sleeping bags, lightweight waterproof gear bags, hiking shoes, an electronic GPS gadget, headlamps, hiking poles, bear spray, and the lengthy list goes on and on.  Even more ironically, much of it was in the name of “reducing the weight” in our packs.  Even at that, I still carried more than 55 pounds of gear for more than 90 miles.  I’m now passionate about backpacking and hope to lighten my load even more, of course that will drive the purchase of some new equipment.

While it seems contradictory, purchasing all the lightweight equipment, having to count ounces of food, and debating the number of bandages to pack, has reminded me of some long lost lessons about how to choose what things matter and what things don’t.  An ounce isn’t that much and it only takes 16 of them to make a pound.  At that rate, luxuries get left behind very quickly.

I think all of this goes right in line with minimalism though.  One of the concepts is to get rid of the things that don’t add joy or value to your life so that you have more room for the things that do.  I’ve done this a little bit in reverse I guess.  I increased my backpacking gear, which adds a tremendous amount of joy, and am now trying to jettison a lot of the other junk that just clutters my life.  While I don’t expect to go ultra-light with my everyday life, I do plan to lighten my load tremendously.  I’m hoping that I can reverse the cycle of consumption and get back to collecting experiences.

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