A few years ago I took two weeks off to hike the John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains from start to finish, Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney. I hiked a total of about 225 miles and enjoyed an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. It was a phenomenal adventure of pristine lakes, high mountain passes, evergreen forests, marmots, mosquitoes and more. I loved the simple life on the trail from day-to-day, only concerning myself with the weather, water sources and where I might bed down that night. It was glorious, and yes, I will do another thru-hike sometime in the next few years.
One thing I learned that made the entire trip possible for me is the basic rule, “The less you have, the less you need.” By following this rule, I kept my backpack relatively light. Over half the weight of my pack was food alone (and even that was carefully planned to cut weight). I didn’t carry a stove, since that would entail also carrying cooking utensils, pots, fuel, and more. All my food was simple and uncooked (basic grains, cheese, nuts, etc.). My only weight splurge was on a very warm sleeping bag. Because I kept my load light, my time on the trail was spent in wonder at the beautiful natural environment rather than suffering under a heavy backpack. With the lighter pack, I comfortably moved further each day, seeing more and revelling in the changing ecosystems as I moved south. I felt safer because I could go further and would be more able to dodge adverse weather or move quickly through a difficult or hazardous area.
A favourite form of recreation for me is ultramarathon running. An “ultra” is any run longer than a 26.2-mile marathon. Ultras commonly range from 50k (31 miles) to 100 miles or more. As a slow but persistent plodder, my best distance is 100 miles. I used to do this by strapping on a small pack filled with food, water, clothing, lights, batteries and lots more “what if?” items. More recently, I’ve been learning to do more with less. Now when I head out the door for a day on the trails, I usually don’t carry anything more than a light shell tied around my waist, some food and a small flashlight in my pockets and a water bottle with built-in filter so I can drink from streams. When I do this, I have more fun, go further, become more flexible, don’t rely on “stuff” and feel safer as a result.
In time, I came to see the analogy between this way of lightweight backpacking and running and a more general “lightweight” way of life. A somewhat well-known lightweight backpacker, Andrew Skurka has written a few pages on his website about what he calls A Lightweight Lifestyle.
Analogies in everyday life
The most obvious application I see of this lightweight philosophy is in travel. We’ve all seen the wide variety of travellers in airports and bus/train stations around the world. There are those with three huge coffin-sized suitcases who need help just getting their stuff to the curb and those others who carry so little that their entire load fits comfortably on their backs, not even needing to check a bag. While these lightweight travellers are more limited in their wardrobe or toys for the trip, they need not worry about theft or damage to their belongings, since they’re always in their possession. They can walk instead of taking a taxi. They can remain flexible to surprise itinerary changes and roll with whatever comes along. A friend of mine was just in Turkey travelling this way a few weeks ago and was invited spur-of-the-moment into a Turkish wedding celebration, got an unexpected ride in a bread truck to his next destination and came home with wonderful stories to tell all of us!
A commonly considered application of “going light” in everyday life is in de-cluttering—reducing the physical “stuff” in our lives. As we create lives with less “stuff” and cheaper used “stuff,” we let go of the worry over theft or damage, we no longer need to carry much insurance, we don’t need to store things, we reduce the need to maintain everything and we develop a lower-stress lifestyle. After all, do we own our “stuff,” or does our “stuff” own us?
Speaking of “stuff,” what about the computers we’re using to read this? Personally, I use a 7-year-old PC running Ubuntu Linux. Because Linux is more efficient than other choices, my computer doesn’t need to be upgraded. I’ll continue to use this computer until it breaks and enjoy the free, high-quality operating system. It’s simple and lightweight.
It’s the same way I think about sports and fitness. Rather than a gym membership, expensive bicycle and gear, lift tickets and so forth, I have a pair of running shoes, a pair of used snowshoes and some amazing trails. My transportation is a bicycle, so being outdoors and getting a little exercise is an integrated part of my day. Admittedly, this isn’t for everyone, but many of us use local goods and services (e.g. grocery shopping) within walking or cycling distance from home. In short, why drive to a gym to get on a treadmill?
What about entertainment? Most have televisions at home and the result is that we sit individually in our living rooms watching the tube for entertainment. But wait, isn’t it fun to get together with friends to watch a movie? A friend and I spoke with a mutual friend who has a big-screen TV and DVD player and now it looks like we’ll have regular movie nights at his place. He’s excited to have company—we’ll bring movies and munchies and we’ll all enjoy sharing the fun.
Going further down the road of “going light,” we can think of our financial nest eggs the same way. The key to Financial Independence isn’t how much we have; it’s how little we need. If we don’t need much money, there simply isn’t much to worry about!
What analogies do you see in everyday life? How can you lighten your load?
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