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Monday, July 27, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 30 - What to learn from camping, part II

Kejimkujik National Park. JSM, 2015

When you feel like you haven't mastered all the ins and outs of something, ... practice some more, they said.

I went camping again.

Primarily for fun, but I was also excited to see what it would teach me about minimalism this time.

I was haunted by a lingering question: why do so many people enjoy living with much less than they actually have access to? Why do people actively choose to "complicate their lives", as my grandmother would say, by leaving the comfort of their homes and putting up a tent in a place with no showers or fridges? Why sleep on the ground when you could be in your bed? Why sit in front of a campfire night after night when you could pick from dozens of TV shows?

Sure, many wonderful things come with camping (see my partial list here), but what about the discomforts? The national park campground we picked this time has no showers within walking distance, so you either have to drive to them or skip washing yourself altogether (better yet, go for a swim in the lake and hope it will suffice).

The silliness of material comfort occurred to me while I was washing my dishes by hand at one of the rare communal sinks. I thought of those "house hunting" TV shows where people claim they "need" a double sink, a king bed, and the washing machine on the main level. Need? Really?

This latest camping trip of ours was complicated by Mother Nature's vagaries. We were "blessed" with torrential downpours. Everything inside the tent became damp and everything outside the tent was soaked: for example, we had to wring our towels before using them. In the group of friends we camped with, everyone's tent had a leak of some sort. Waking up to a drip of cold rain on the face at 2 am is nobody's idea of a good night's sleep. Waking up to a loud bang when a branch the size of your ankle falls on top of the tent isn't much better (true story).

When came time to pack up and leave, it was still raining and not only did we get drenched... mud and pine needles stuck to everything. The tent was so dirty we had to put it up when we got home to hose it down. I can think of better ways to spend my time... especially when I'm tired after three restless nights.

Still... camping keeps its indescribable appeal. Why?

I think I found the answer during a canoe expedition on the river: 

Thanks of the hyper focus on basic preoccupations such as obtaining drinking water, maintaining adequate shelter, and keeping warm...

... camping annihilates existential angst.

Try it and tell us if it does it for you.

Kejimkujik National Park. JSM, 2015

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 29 - A seasonal case of FOMO

Kouchibougouac National Park. JSM, 2015

Do you suffer from FOMO? This acronym stands for the “fear of missing out” on things interesting and exciting. There are various manifestations, causes and consequences to this phenomenon, but it seems to be compounded by the use of social media.

In my case, that fear of missing out acts predominantly during the summer. The reason is simple: our summers here are so short (snow until April, jackets + scarves + gloves in October) and so stingy in terms of warmth (evenings usually require long sleeves, and the water rarely gets past vivifying temperatures) that I want to make the most of it. 

Consequence, I often feel frustrated. There are so many fun things to choose from that I don't know where to begin... even if I was to limit myself to free activities. And that does not take into account the short window of opportunity offered by the nicer months to do work on the property. On a sunny day, I find myself having to decide between repainting the deck (which is overdue), writing a chapter (if I ever want that book to be a thing), taking the kids to the nearby lake or ocean, playing tennis with a friend, reading a good book, and many more options. 

It seems ridiculous to complain as I only work part-time in July and August (a choice I made in order to spend more time with my kids). Yet I manage to experience stress in the face of all the fun things (and all the responsibilities) I face. Why do I feel so pressed with time, and is there a way to regain peacefulness? This state of mind doesn't quite feel minimalistic! Any advice on how to apply the Less is More principle to our short Canadian summers? Knowing that I cannot spend it all backcountry camping?

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 28 - What to learn from camping

Mount Carleton Provincial Park. JSM, 2015

For those who are contemplating a simpler lifestyle, taking the plunge can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there is a way to test the waters and see if you can gain something from minimalism: go camping!

And by camping I mean the real thing: in a tent, without amenities. But if that in itself is too big of a step, you might want to start with an intermediate option. 

Last week, for example, we rented a log cabin deep in the woods. For about twice as much as it costs to simply pitch a tent in an unserviced campsite, we had a rustic cabin about 12' x 18', with one room containing bunk beds (bring your own mattress and bedding) and a wood stove, and one small screened porch with a table and hard chairs. That's it. The four of us (plus the dog) lived there harmoniously. We did spend most of our time outdoors. But it occurred to me that such a simple setting was more than enough for comfort and well-being. It was so remote (we had to drive 60+ km on dirt roads from the closest - and small - village to get there, and to carry everything on foot for the last kilometer or so) that we only had nature and each other to stay entertained. That was not an issue whatsoever.

Mount Carleton Provincial Park. JSM, 2015

If you are ready to rough it, then I cannot recommend tenting enough. Especially in remote areas, away from the hustle and bustle of busy campgrounds. Some national parks are so popular they are louder than my own backyard (which is surrounded by forest, admittedly). Try and find a secluded, quiet spot­. You might have to walk or paddle to it, but believe me, it will be worth the effort. As for the equipment, our tent is 8' x 8' plus a small screened vestibule. It is just big enough to sleep the 4 of us and the dog + fit our respective, minimalist bags. Other than that we carry a small propane stove, some flashlights and a couple items for basic cooking/eating. It works perfectly fine. The only thing on my wish list at this point is a lightweight hammock. This is where we camped recently:

Kouchibouguac National Park. JSM, 2015

So. You found a quiet spot and have basic lodging/sleeping and cooking equipment. Now what? Well, now, the fun begins. 

  • Let the simplicity of everyday life infuse you with what really matters. First, strive to stay reasonably dry, warm, hydrated, fed, and rested.
  • Disconnect from all technology. No screens. No phone (where we camp, there's no signal anyway). Heck, no electricity at all. If you are addicted, er, used to technology, it might be hard for the first 24-48 hours, but past that, you will experience a level of calm and serenity that can only be achieved when you are unreachable.
  • Take time to appreciate your surroundings: shades of blue. Shades of green. Wildlife. Wonderful scents, sights, sounds. Witness the birth of a rainbow. Listen to the sound of the rain. Spot wildlife.
  • Enjoy a reconnection with loved ones, or, if you travel alone, with yourself. Long conversations by the campfire or long meditations by the lake come to mind.
  • Learn to appreciate the comforts of modern life by not having access to them; better yet, realize they are by no means necessary. I have, for example, developed a deep gratitude for a lukewarm shower that drips more than it pours every 3 days or so. Come to think of it, it's more than enough. There were four of us and no one stunk. In the same vein, why change your clothes every day? (I make an exception for underwear, which I do change daily, but then again, I am a high-maintenance diva.) 
  • Don't give a sh** about the way you look. Plus, if you're scary, the bears won't come close.
  • Chop wood, carry water. Work hard but move and talk slowly. When food and shelter are assured, exhaust yourself on hikes.
  • Go to bed tired (a good tired), so that you will absolutely not mind that you are sleeping on a mattress one inch thick. (If there is a nice pine needle cover under the tent, you will actually sleep like an angel on a magnificently scented cloud - true story.)
  • See ten million trees at a time (literally):
Mount Carleton Provincial Park. JSM, 2015

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Less is More Project: Week 27 - The faces of minimalism

massmarrier, Flickr

By an interesting twist of fate - or, more aptly said, because I took advantage of my summer vacation to visit my mother, who lives 1500 km away - I ended up spending a few days in a house that, at first glance, is the epitome of anti-minimalism.

Not counting the mud room, workshop, attic, loft, basement and garage, my mother's house is over 5000 square feet, with ceilings 11 feet high and windows taller than me, and boasts 6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, formal living and dining rooms, 2 sun rooms, 1 library/music room, a sauna, a large kitchen with walk-in pantry, 4 fireplaces + 1 cast iron stove, 2 stairways (one of which leads to what was originally the servants' quarters), many alcoves, built-in bookshelves, tons of storage space, and lots of architectural wonders. I'm not even mentioning the spacious decks and garden (and wooded area). 

Two people live in there, namely, my mother and her partner.

Without being overwhelmingly cluttered per se, the house is also filled with massive furniture, antiques, works of art, paintings big and small, mirrors, sculptures, figurines, fine books, porcelains and crystals, beautiful rugs, all gathered during numerous travels around the world. When my mother's good friend called the house "a museum", she was at least partly right. (As for me, I am seriously considering writing a story based on the fascinating building, its contents and its surroundings.)

Surely, this looks and sounds like a life of luxury, and in some ways, it is. Past the first impression, however, there are many ways in which the two inhabitants of that house embrace at least some aspects of minimalism, perhaps not in terms of dollars spent and objects owned, but definitely in terms of healthy, environmentally-friendly choices.

  • They bought an already existing house and piece of land, as opposed to building on a new lot.
  • They upgraded it with energy efficient roof, windows, heating/cooling system, lighting, etc.
  • They both work from home, so the house doubles as an office for the two of them. Consequently, they do not commute, they only need one vehicle, and don't use it daily. They also do not need work clothes.
  • They rarely go "to town", avoiding most consumerist temptations.
  • They are very mindful of electricity use and water use, don't watch TV, and dry their clothes on the line.
  • They cook from scratch 95% of the time, using almost exclusively organic fruit and vegetables from their garden, and organic eggs and meat from small local producers.
  • They make their own bread, yogurt, preserves, and canned goods. They don't buy packaged foods, prepared meals or bottled water.
  • They compost, reuse and recycle everything (including seeds from the previous years).
  • They use natural cleaning products.
  • They play an active role in local matters, advocating for environmentally-friendly practices throughout the community.
  • They both quit demanding and high-paying careers (one in finance, one as a physician) to refocus on something they actually love to do and requires less hours per week, albeit being significantly less lucrative.

All in all, it might still not qualify as a frugal life, but some conscious choices are made. Minimalism has many faces: you can live in small quarters and own few things. You can aim for self-subsistance and the smallest footprint possible. You can be mindful of what you do with your money and time. Minimalism is also a process: you start where you are, and you make your way toward simplicity.

Where are you at, simplicity wise? Where do you want to get?


Observations and cogitations

Being on vacation has been the ultimate test for consumption. Especially when strolling through big cities in which wonderful stores filled with wonderful things abound, and in which people dress and drive with style. Most of us will probably never be able to afford the Maserati I saw, but we might still want to indulge in quality clothes, objects, food and drinks - at least occasionally. Doing so would be okay... especially if it's a treat, and as long as it's done mindfully. It all comes down to the concept of choice: what am I going to obtain from the purchase of goods and services? Is it worth my money and, if it's an object, is it worth the space it will take in my house and the dust it might gather? Is it worth the environmental impact?

This year, instead of walking in stores thinking "If I see something I like and/or a good bargain, I will buy it", I kept in mind the things we really needed, such as new shoes for the kids, a few specific items of clothing for us, and a new air mattress for camping. Those are the only things we bought. We saw many other beautiful objects, but instead of acquiring them, we simply admired them in passing. It was a nice opportunity to explain to the kids that "just because you like something and can afford it, doesn't mean you should get it".

Your turn to share about your struggles and victories of the week! What did you resist? Did you donate or get rid of anything? Did you face any challenge? Please comment below! And...

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