March 1, 2017

What Does This Stuff Mean To Me?

Carrying the overweight backpack of useless consumer crap is an unnecessary burden.

Starting out in life I didn't think much about minimalism until I started going on multi-day backpacking trips into the mountains. My longest hike was 72km over 12 days. During excursions like that the pain of too much stuff can not be ignored.

To play jokes on each other my backpacking friends would put rocks at the bottom of someones pack. I didn't think it much funny. Guess what? That is exactly what consumer lifestyles are doing. Putting rocks in the bottom of people's packs. Useless weight. It is also not funny. Especially because one has to pay for those rocks.

Wilderness backpacking trips taught me about reducing the weight of possessions to the bare minimum, and helped me set a long term goal - reduce the amount of stuff I was "carrying" through life to only what I truly needed to get by and thrive. And no more.

Since then it has taken several years and two major moves to winnow the useful and necessary things that add to life from the rocks that just make everything hurt. It was far more difficult than a multi-day self-supported backpacking adventure, and perhaps even more rewarding.

Being free in the wilderness is liberating, but freeing yourself from the excessive trappings of a consumer lifestyle is even more so. It makes me want to call out, "Emancipate yourselves from consumer slavery. None but ourselves can free our lives (and wallets)."

To succeed it was first necessary to take a hard look at everything in my lifestyle pack and ask, "What does all this stuff mean to me?" It requires one to look at every single thing. Serious backpackers have been known to cut the tags off shirts and underwear to save weight. While the savings may be minimal when taken in isolation, you don't need those tags, and it all adds up.

Then consider deeply the significance of that thing. Do you love it? Cherish it? Would you die without it? Or might your life be improved by removing it permanently from your life? Have you used it lately? Does it make your life better and more beautiful right now?

As if that isn't hard enough, then you must deal with what you come up with after all that honest brain work. Argh! More questions.

Keep? Sell? Give away? Garbage? Ceremonial consumer crap funeral pyre in the backyard marking the death of wasteful lifestyles? Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Yes, like a difficult, risk-filled backpacking adventure into the wilderness, downsizing is one challenging activity. Even if you don't have a lot of stuff. But both are well worth doing if you are a freedom junky like me.

You may not be able to escape civilization forever at the moment, but you can escape from the burden of the heavy baggage of expensive and excessive materialist lifestyles. Only keep the things that matter to you. Be ruthless about what you keep, and from then on, be ruthless about what you allow back  into your home.

And do regular checks for the rocks at the bottom of your pack.


  1. Nice post. Consumerism is hard work as you have to look after so much. I'm finding minimal activities to do and enjoy running, run barefoot to be very minimal , you are limited by access to clean areas. Your nervous system will thank for the proprioceptive feedback.
    Parkour or free running is good minimal activity.
    Wild swimming or sea swimming also minimal.
    Meditation is the ultimate in minimalist activity.
    Yoga and stretching are good.
    Systema is a good fitness system you can do from home.
    Calisthenics is good for strength, I use various tree branches and other random items like benches.
    Libraries are good for learning along with Khan Academy for instruction.
    Stay away from addictive technologies like social media platforms, these are getting increasingly more advanced at keep people online.
    If you need a computer by ex business and use Linux. Tiny core is good for a very old PC.
    Learn about how your brain is being influenced by the media, especially the limbic system.
    Love this planet and reuse and share stuff.
    Use your money ethically. If in the UK move your money is a good resource.
    There's plenty more,

    1. Alex,

      So many good ideas. Thanks for sharing with us. Starting with "loving the planet" leads to all kinds of good things.

  2. That was an impressive backpacking trip, 75K and 12 days! Wow! Longest I've backpacked was a weekend and not many times. It does teach you a lot about what you really need and don't. Camping does too. I've gone on extended camping/hiking trips. Longest I camped was a whole summer. Went out for 3 weeks one time too. Probably been camping for a weekend to a week a couple hundred times. I've been known "to lose" items I brought with me because once out there I realized I didn't need them and it was costly in time to manage "rocks" I dint need.

    I hadn't heard of cutting the tags out of clothing, but you are right every single fraction of an ounce of weight matters when you are packing. i continue to have less "rocks in my living space. It's a process.

    I find getting out the door to go camping easy to do. I find re-entry particularly difficult. Just getting back into the car, dealing with stopping to get gas and driving home is kind of shocking when you've been in the woods living with few belongings. Yea, watch out for rocks.

    Being a freedom junkie is best best kind of junkie you could be. Great article! Makes me want to pack up a few things and just leave, for good.

    1. Terri,

      I can really relate to your statement on re-entry into civilization after being out in the woods for a few days. I remember thinking that everything seems more crazy after a trip away. The weirdest feeling was moving without walking, and with all your stuff on your back. It seemed like massive luxury, which, of course, it is.

      Being without all the trappings of a modern lifestyle for a while makes one very appreciative of what we have at home, even if it is not much. Survival is a full time job. We have to remember that it could be even harder, and probably will be the way things are going. I miss the simplicity and immediacy of backpacking.

    2. Also, I do remember my early backpacking trips where my friends and I realized how much we brought that we didn't need. For me it was a life lesson I never forgot. I soon learned to get rid of all unnecessary things that were weighing me down and reducing my enjoyment of the hiking experience. Same as with the rest of life.

  3. As a Lenten practice, we are getting rid of something every day.

    1. Annie,

      What a nice Lenten activity. That makes a lot of sense to me.

  4. thanks for another great post!
    I am currently downsizing from a 3 bed house full of stuff to 30 sqm of house and have 1 week left to do it so I am glad I read your post! needed the extra positive motivation aas I have hit many road blocks along the way...

    1. Allison,

      Good luck on your move. May you circumvent all road blocks on your way to your new downsized lifestyle. It is worth it!

  5. I'm always down sizing physical clutter but wonder what your thoughts are on downsizing mental clutter as well? Specifically internet and social media clutter? I'm completely off social media these days and feel so much lighter as a result. Very occasionally I have pangs of feeling like I'm missing out on events (simply because so many are organised via social media now! ), but those pangs don't last long. Now I'm thinking of cutting back even more on my internet usage and reliving the simplicity of my childhood where these things didn't exist lol. I find a few sites very beneficial (such as NBA) but otherwise feel the whole internet thing can be a time suck and add my already busy monkey mind!.

    1. Karen,

      Funny you should mention downsizing mental clutter. Linda and I just recently decided to cut out reading the "news" for a while, again. By doing so we are also cutting out a big time waster - reading comments on news articles.

      I do agree that reducing mental clutter is very important, especially now that we have instant access to so much from a variety of platforms. When does one stop to declutter the brain? I think if you asked most people when they stop they might answer that they never do, which is not a healthy state of affairs.

      We all have reasons that we choose to engage so much, but burnout is a hazard. I am as guilty as anyone as I am a self-professed information junkie. Reduce screen time, stop the thoughts, and let my brain recover and recuperate.

      I like your idea of cutting back on internet time. I can think of several things that I would like to be doing more than being online. And all of those things are good for me, like practicing guitar and singing, or drawing, or yoga, or meditation, or snuggling with Linda...

      Of course decluttering the mind is so much more than just internet and news. I think finding our way back to the simplicity we have all experienced as children is a good place to start. We are so glad you find NBA useful. Let us know how your cutting back goes for you.

    2. That was me, too; "reading comments on news articles." Then feeling tense as people started to argue with each other in the comments until I'd finally shut it down. I do feel that by the time the Gen X-ers and all the other alphabet people after them hit their 60's everyone will be short and stooped from looking down at their hand-helds for so many years.

  6. Thank you Karen for your timely comments about mental clutter. For the past month and a half, I've engaged in "news" and social media more than I ever have. It's taken an enormous toll. My brain is so saturated with news and information, I can't think straight. I became less grounded, less calm, and more emotional, more reactive and very distracted, flitting from one thing to another. Feeling overstimulated, overwhelmed and cynical.

    One day recently while on my lap top, I reached for my nearby iPad because I needed to look something up I was reading about on my laptop. Something else caught my attention so I went with it. I then reached for my phone to look up the definition of a word. 3 computers at one time, really? It was a defining moment. I shut all three down immediately. I can't do this. I'm not going to do this.

    I took yesterday off from news and social media. Today I'm on reduced input. I'm also getting extra sleep to try aid recovery from too much news and information. The mental clutter rages on, so more is needed to Declutter it.

    I'm asking myself, how much do I need to know? Why? I've heard that "knowledge is power." Power to do what? Why am I and so many people it seems addicted to learning? Are our brains wired that way? Or has media figured out a way to keep us entrained in it by tapping into something in our brains? Why? What's the purpose? What's the purpose of keeping these devises in our hands and keeping our eyes and brains fixated on these screens? To "program" us, brainwash us? Then there are the money trials. The internet makes it easier to follow some money trials, but I fear the ultimate money trails are hidden in the chaos of the Internet itself.

    Another thing I've noticed is it is now requiring massive use of apps to control the important things I'm working on and to do some things with others. I didn't come up with the "use apps" idea, it was thrust on me. With some of the groups I'm working with, email has become an inefficient way of managing our work, so now we are using about 5 apps to get our stuff separate from email. The reason is things we were working on were getting lost in email and on FB because of the overwhelming volume of news and information coming in.

    The apps are a learning curve in themselves. Some are quite sophisticated and to me, complicated. It's causing frustration. Not to mention a lot of time to get things moved into the apps.

    I'm in the thick of news and information overload obviously. It has created a lot of mental clutter and chatter. Making small step progress on getting out of it. The trouble is I want to remain involved in the fight for change which means I need to stay current on some things. All or none isn't the answer for me, that I've figured out. But breaks are. And limiting how much time I spend with news, information and these damn apps!

    1. Terri,

      That is funny, and reminds me of a comedy show I saw where two people were Skyping with each other from the opposite ends of the same couch before they realized they were together in the same room.

      I worry about how much the internet is being used to control us. Just like TV could have been used for good, but turned out to be an attractive way to manipulate the audience and soak them for money and votes. It is all a bit dystopian.

      On the other hand, the internet can also be seen as a potential place of higher learning and self-improvement. It also allows us to meet and share ideas and information in ways unthinkable only a few decades ago.

      It sounds like you are using the infrastructure for good as a tool for change, and that is wonderful. Congratualtions - Linda and I loved experiencing the town hall meeting. Wow! That was a good example of a beneficial use of this technology.

      But many of us also yearn for the simpler days of pre-computer/internet. Like TV, it will take some time before we can decide if, on balance, these technologies actually improve our lives. But if I wrote this to you and sent it in a letter, it would take several days to reach you, instead of several seconds. I guess we could probably get used to that... again.

      Take breaks, take care. Use with caution and take care of yourself.

  7. Hi Terri,
    I've undertaken a fair amount of research on the news. The author Rolf Dobelli has a nice summary here: I myself took an extended news fast and the you do feel great and refreshed. I now conusme a fraction of the news now and are very selctive in what I consume.
    News is a product first and foremost. It works on the limic system the 'primitive part' of the brain and the amygdala is highly involved. The amydala is like our brains guard dog and has a hard wired access to the parasympathetic nervous system and the fight and flight response. It will take a few seconds before the hypofrontal cortex to start to take control. News is not reality, it's a product, producers select the worst things they can find in a world of 9 billion and choose the worst, they ignore the rest of what goes on completely. There are wonderful journalists and news has it's use, but of course the profit motive takes over. The news hooks by telling use we are under threat and have to keep watching the bad guys ie keep watching the news and learned helplessness is sometimes cultivated.

    1. Alex,

      I can also see how the "news" has turned us against each other by constructing the whole "right vs left" thing, as if that reflects reality. But which came first? Are they reporting on something that was already there? Or did they create it in the first place, and we have just come to accept it now?

      Either way it is preventing us from getting together and dealing with our common foe. They want us fighting each other so that we do not turn our attention to where it really belongs - the greedy power hungry few that are trying to take over everything.

      One must be a discerning consumer of this potentially dangerous product, as you point out. It is the only way to retain your grip on reality.

    2. The left vs right seems to be an economic argument regarding the efficient allocation of resources, does the state or the "free market" know best. Neither has much to say about the environment as it's about building society.
      The news is a product we consume and works on the brain like any drug. This article goes through the three basic neurotransmitters:
      We never get to meet the protagonists and they don't know we exist, yet our brains are influenced. Addictive processes provide great returns and social media is a evolution of this. This talk by Natasha Krull who wrote addiction by design is well worth watching:
      What's more worrying is there is such a think as a Habit Summit where companies can share ideas.
      Neil Postman's amusing ourselves to death is also a good read.
      I'm currently half way through a panorama program about children's sleep deprivation due to tablet and smartphone use and this is a serious problem in the UK, these children's brains are being changed due to dopamine release. It's interesting times as consumerism is getting much more refined, but if you know all the tricks you can bypass it.
      I treat news like benzo`s they may be useful for certain things, but they will certainly get you into trouble if you let them.
      PS benzo's is just an example I would never willingly take any rubbish from big pharma.


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