One Bowl, One Backpack
In March of 2020, a couple of weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown, I ordered a set of hair clippers. I can't stand it when my hair gets longer, and it seemed clear enough by then that I wouldn't be going back to Great Clips anytime soon. I realize that I'm hardly unique in needing to cut my own hair during the pandemic. On the other hand, I'd guess that not many people were as excited about it as I was. Truthfully, I've been kicking around the idea of cutting my own hair for years. It seemed like a way to save some money, increase consistency, and simplify my life a bit. But it took losing access to the status quo to push me over the edge. Now that I've made the switch, I'll never go back.
Discomfort can often lead to positive changes in our lives, and I've found that my creativity flourishes when I place some careful boundaries around it. Because of this, I enjoy engaging in experiments with minimalism - intentionally leaving my comfort zone to challenge conventional ideas about what we need. I didn't really have a choice but to start cutting my own hair, but here are a couple of examples of more deliberate experiments from the past year.
In February, my wife spent some time away from home helping her family. We didn't exactly plan it this way, but due to various circumstances and pandemic weirdness, I ended up spending four whole weeks at home alone. I knew that I'd be tempted to eat way too much fast food during this time, so I set some careful rules for myself. The first was that I would only order out one meal per week (though I could have anything I wanted for that meal) and cook the rest of my food at home. The other was that I would use only a few dishes for the month and wash everything by hand - no dishwasher. I had toyed with this experiment ever since reading this post from Leo some years ago, but I love my wife too much to subject her to it. I decided to seize the unusual opportunity, and here's what I ended up with:
- One large shallow bowl
- My titanium spork
- A mason jar drinking glass for water
- My 10oz lowball tumbler for tea
I also tried to limit my cooking dishes but gradually added more and more items as the month went on. The experiment still affected how I cooked, though, as I focused on simple meals I could prepare in a single pan and then eat out of my bowl. If I wanted dessert or a snack, I had to ensure that my dishes were washed and ready to be used again. I found value in the deliberate practices that these restrictions inspired for a month. I quickly returned to my regular habits in March, but I'm grateful to have been reminded how little is really necessary. I also focused on healthier eating and weight loss that month, and I can't help but see some correlation. Fortunately, those habits have continued throughout the year!
My other experiment has been a long time coming. I've been interested in minimalist travel for many years and have taken a "one bag" approach since college - the last time I checked a bag on a plane or bus was in 2006, and I've covered many miles in the intervening years! Planning for several trips in 2021, I decided to go a step further and committed to carrying only my 25-liter backpack for all of my travel this year. This was easy enough for a couple of short weekend excursions. Even packing for a weeklong family trip in June was simple, especially since I had access to a washing machine at our rental house.
My commitment to the idea was put to the test in the fall when a planned Florida vacation unexpectedly collided with some business travel. Suddenly, I was faced with the prospect of two straight weeks on the road, in temperatures ranging from 30-80 degrees Fahrenheit, covering activities ranging from working in the office to nice dinners out to a saltwater fishing trip. And all with no easy access to laundry! I considered changing course but ultimately decided to double down, packing strategically and washing clothes in hotel sinks along the way.
I won't get into the specifics of what I carried here. My packing method was hardly unique, and there are many outstanding resources for backpack travel available online. But I must say that it was truly freeing to travel so light. The trip went very well, and I could have stayed on the road with the same kit for much longer if needed. Obviously, some amenities can be taken for granted when traveling, and co-packing with my wife (who also significantly downsized her luggage for this trip) made a difference, too. But I was still struck by just how little I needed, and I'm trying to carry those lessons into my everyday life at home going forward.
These experiments might sound silly or even stressful to some, and that's okay. I'm not prescribing them to anyone, simply holding them up as examples of limitations leading to greater freedom. When we face restrictions, whether self-imposed or out of our control, there is value in looking for opportunities to grow. I'm not going to eat out of one bowl long-term, but I'll likely stick with my single backpack for future travel. More importantly, I'll be more open-minded and ready to adapt to challenges when they inevitably arise.