Have you ever wanted to leave everything behind and go off to the wilderness and live in a shed or a tree? Do you like reading about people who do? What is the fascination of the simple life? Even people who would never dream of living in a shed themselves seem be fascinated with people who do it. Think of all the novels and chronicles that have been written about surviving in the wilderness and the like, not to mentions all the how-to-guides. There seems to be a human need for simplicity, yet we live in a complicated world. For most of us, the choice of a simple lifestyle is going to mean something other than leaving everything behind to go live in the wilderness. Are you are thinking of making a New Year’s resolution to live more simply, more sustainably, or more in tune with nature? I have learned from bitter experience that you are more likely to have success if you keep in mind two guidelines: Don’t make simplicity too complicated. Do make your goals clear and attainable.
Don’t make simplicity too complicated.
The idea of living off the land has fascinated me since I was a kid. I grew up in the country, surrounded by Amish neighbors. I read things like the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s account of growing up in a pioneer family, and My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George’s novel about a boy who ran away to live in the New York wilderness. I didn’t just read novels; I read how-to books. I spent hours of my youth pouring over Reader’s Digest’s Back to Basics, which told you how to do just about everything. My career goal was to be a subsistence farmer.
But life in the 20th/21st Centuries doesn’t quite work the way I think it should. Even the Amish are moving away from farming and finding trades. We have to find our own compromise between the need to engage with the modern economy and the desire for the simple life. I’ve tried numerous little experiments of giving up elements of modern convenience to be more in tune with nature. Those experiments have varied in intensity. One happened when I was living in Washington, DC. I give up electric lights, ate frugally, and wrote my notes about the experiment on paper grocery bags. Another experiment involved attempting to live in a shed on the back of my sister’s farm while growing my own food. I was in direct contact with nature, but…
The DC experiment was the simpler of the two. Database management by day and candlelight dinners by night is simpler than life with dairy animals and produce. Notes from the DC experiment describe the restfulness of allowing the sleep mechanism to be controlled by natural rhythm of daylight. Notes from the shed experiment express exasperation of a life controlled by the necessity of making butter, cheese, cheese, and more cheese.
I have discovered that you don’t have to do anything drastic to live more simply, more in tune with the natural order. Radical changes are seldom sustainable. Success depends on making the sort of choices that you can live with in the long run. Most of us wouldn’t last very long if we gave up heating our houses in winter, but we can live with the thermostat set a little lower. None of us could live without food, but we can live without many of the food frills that we accept as routine. The truly simple life makes time and space for happiness.
Do make your goals clear and attainable.
Vague goals are not going to motivate you. Furthermore, you won’t know if you reach them. Impossible goals are not going to motivate you. We are motivated when we can anticipate success. The clear, attainable goal gives us something to look forward to. We know when we succeed and when we need to try again, try harder, or try something else. Having clear goals also gives us clear milestones. We can celebrate little successes along the way. Those little celebrations encourage us to go even further.
I’ll admit that I have a hard time setting clear goals. I am very much a process person and get as much excited about the doing of a thing as I do reaching a specific goal. Furthermore, I’m very queued into the fact that the world has a way of changing: The unexpected happens. The thing I count on doesn’t happen while the thing that I don’t even think of ends up saving the day. So I hesitate to make things too set in stone.
However, the best times in life have been the times when I said, “I will do X.” Sometimes I actually did X. Other times, X led to Y or Z. And that was as good or even better. For example, one year I made a New Year’s resolution to walk a half marathon. I did it. The next year I had the same resolution. Life got in the way. I never competed in the marathon, but I stayed in shape and saw many beautiful sunrises in the process of striving towards the goal. But as soon as the concrete goal wasn’t there, I got lazy.
Let’s make some goals right now.
If you are serious about about making in changes in your life, don’t wait until another New Year has come and gone. Set a goal right now before you navigate away from this page.
- Write your goal down. Anything. Start off vague if you want.
- Here’s mine: I want to start a blog about living a happy, natural life. That’s a nice vague goal; I’ve had it for years; I have a few articles in reserve and a great many more ideas. It isn’t quite as vague as “I want to start a blog.” At least it has something of a target audience and focus for content. But I could have stayed in the mode of “I want to start a blog about connecting with nature” for another 20 years. I had to get more concrete as things went along.
- Make it concrete and give yourself a deadline.
- I decided I would start my blog at the New Year. So the blog isn’t exactly my New Year’s resolution. It was a resolution I made a couple of months ago. The New Year gave me a timeline and a theme to start with. That was concrete enough to get me started.
- Tell someone about it. Tell someone who will give you encouragement and accountability. If you don’t have anyone, tell me. You can do it in the comments or by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the Journey.
There is a lot of work left to be done. Life is a journey. It often feels like a journey at night, a journey by a light that waxes and wanes, a journey by moonlight. The more I choose to adapt myself to whatever light (or any other limited resource) is there and continue the journey the happier I become. The more I tune into reality outside myself, the more I become who I am.
I invite you to join me in a journey of discovery and personal growth through connection with nature. I’ll be sharing with you some of my own journey and discoveries, but I want you to make your own journey and take delight in your own discoveries. So I will always encourage you to take a concrete action. Today I want you to make a goal, give yourself a deadline, and tell someone about it.
And subscribe to my blog.
Happy New Year!