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A Year of Living Without

Or, How I Made Room for Life

For the next 12 months, I’ll be conducting a personal experiment that I’m calling A Year of Living Without.

It’s my way of finding out what’s truly necessary, of simplifying my life, of making room for other things.

I’m testing the boundaries of my needs. It’s good to test your personal boundaries now and then (or, if you’re me, all the time).

So what’s the Year of Living Without?

Each month, I’ll go the whole month without one thing I do every day. Something that I tend to not want to give up, for various reasons.

I’ll give up something for a month, then evaluate whether it was something I enjoyed giving up, whether it’s worth leaving it out of my life, or if I want to put it back in after the month’s over. The next month, I’ll try giving up something else (see the list below).

The 12 Things I’ll Live Without

Each month, I’ll try a different experiment:

  1. July: Coffee. I drink about 1-2 cups each morning, and it’s the first thing I do each morning after I meditate. I’ve quit coffee a couple times in the past, as experiments, but haven’t found it to be useful or enjoyable. I’m going to give it another try. Replacement habit: tea. Update: Read my report here.
  2. August: Sitting for longer than 30 mins at a time. I work online. I also read a lot online. And do research, pay bills, watch some videos, etc. You get the picture — a typical life in the Western world, probably. I’m going to ban myself from sitting for too long — after 30 minutes, I have to get up for 15 minutes and do something else. Sitting too long is killing us. Replacement habit: yoga (at least for a few of the breaks). Update: Read my report here.
  3. September: Video entertainment. While I gave up cable TV years ago, Eva & I still watch shows on iTunes/Netflix for about an hour or so at night (without commercials). I also watch stuff on YouTube once in awhile, though not much. I’ll cut all of this out. Replacement habit: read books. Update: Read my report here.
  4. October: Sugar. I love vegan desserts. I don’t eat them much anymore, but for this month, I’ll eat them not at all. Replacement habit: veggies, fruit. Update: Read my report here.
  5. November: Computer/Internet in morning (except to write). I use the computer for email, to read longer articles and blog posts, to pay bills, to manage my tasks, etc. I won’t be able to do any of that before noon. Only write, or do non-computer stuff. Replacement habit: write a novel. Update: Read my report here.
  6. December: Refined carbs. Honestly, I don’t do many refined carbs anymore, but I do “cheat” with the kids now and then. For this month, I’m going to ban them completely. Should be fun to do during the holidays! Replacement habit: veggies. Update: Read my report here.
  7. January: Using Internet all day (except to post writing). Similar to November, except it will be all day long (including evenings). This means no email in January either, probably, though I might need to find a system to keep my Sea Change membership going during the month. Replacement habit: write book. Update: Read my report here.
  8. February: Cell phone. For a long time, I had no iPhone, only a dumb phone. It was completely good enough for my needs. Then Eva bought me an iPhone, and I use it fairly regularly (not addicted). But I’m going to go a month without using my iPhone (or any other cell phone). Note that we don’t have a landline. Replacement habit: drawing. Update: Read my report here.
  9. March: Alcohol. I drink 1-2 glasses of red wine a night, usually with Eva. On rare occasions I’ll have a beer. Not this month. Update: Read my report at the bottom of this post.
  10. April: Buying new things. When I was in debt, I was really frugal. I haven’t been as much of a tightwad now that I’m completely debt-free because it’s not as necessary. This month, I’ll buy nothing new. Update: Read my report at the bottom of this post.
  11. May: Restaurants Food Reward. Basically, I’ll be eating the same very bland foods over and over again, with no variety. That means I’ll eat the same three unseasoned foods every day, and it will be exceptionally flavorless and unvaried. No salt, added fats, frying or stir-frying, spices, mixing foods together. No fun with food this month.
  12. June: Computer. No computer at all this month. I’ll write with pen & paper, and maybe ask someone to post things for me on Zen Habits. Yikes. Replacement habit: meditating, stretching, writing, drawing.

This list might change as the year progresses and I find other things I’d rather give up, but this is what I’m planning for now. I’ll do at least one post each month about what I’ve learned.

At the end of each month, I’ll decide whether I want to keep doing without that month’s Living Without item. It will really depend on how the experiment went.

Some things I’ve already given up:

  • Owning a car
  • Meat
  • Dairy & Eggs
  • Cable TV
  • Having a lot of stuff
  • Fast food
  • Facebook
  • Packing a lot of stuff when I travel

I’ve enjoyed giving all these things up. They’re not sacrifices, but a joy.

Why Am I Doing This?

If you ever thought something like, “Oh, I could never give up cheese!” (or coffee, or sugar, or your car, or TV, or Facebook, or the Internet), then you know what I’m faced with. I’m faced with a year of this reaction, inside myself.

And I’m faced with a year of learning that, perhaps, none of it is true. We can give up that which we hold dearly to. We can push those boundaries, and feel them push back, and be OK with the push.

I’m doing this for myself, to learn about myself, but also to show others that our initial reaction is false. We can give it up.

And in the process, make room for something that just might be better. You’ll never know until you try.

Q&As and Suggestions

Some questions you might have:

Q: How can you give up the Internet when you work online?
A: Well, I plan to still write, but do little else. I’ll figure out a system where I can write but not do anything else online. I haven’t worked out the details yet.

Q: Isn’t this a bit extreme?
A: Possibly, depending on context. Honestly, I don’t think some of this will be incredibly difficult, but the computer-related ones will be hard (and alcohol seems like it’ll be missed as well). And I’m not afraid of a little extremes — when we push ourselves a bit, we learn about ourselves.

Q: I’ve already been going without these things for years!
A: Awesome! I don’t claim to be the first to do these things. This is simply a series of personal experiments, to see what I can learn. I would love to learn from you — share your story with me on Twitter or Google+, give me some tips.

Q: What will you do with your new free time?
A: I’m interested to find out! I hope it’ll be used for writing, reading, exercise, yoga, meditation, and spending time with Eva & the kids. We’ll see!

Q: Coffee? Dude, you have lost your mind …
A: Yes, I love coffee. But it’s the things I am most resistant to giving up that interest me the most. Is my reaction — “I can’t/shouldn’t/don’t wanna give that up!” — true, or can I prove it false? What can I learn about myself? If we only listen to the little scared child within ourselves, we never learn anything interesting.

Q: Are you giving up each item permanently? Or are you only going to abstain from the items on your list until said month is up?
A: We’ll see. I’m only committing to abstaining from each item until said month is up, but if I like it I plan to continue the experiment for as long as it feels right. I’ll share my findings, and which ones I keep, as I go.

Q: I’m wondering if you don’t eat refined carbs and meat… What do you eat? I really like to know with a weekly menu example.
A: Well, I’m vegan, and I rarely eat refined carbs these days (maybe 1-2 times a week unless I’m traveling). But my meals might go something like this:

  • Breakfast: Ezekiel sprouted grain (flourless) cereal with soymilk, berries, raw nuts, flaxseed
  • Lunch: Black beans with brown rice & green veggies
  • Snack: Nuts and fruits, or green smoothie with green veggies, frozen berries, soymilk, almond butter, banana
  • Dinner: Tempeh stir fried with kale, olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper

Q: How does one meditate after waking and before coffee, without falling back asleep!?
A: Well, I sit upright on a cushion. If you lie down, you’ll fall asleep. I’m also not super tired as long as I get 6-7 hours sleep. Each person is different.

Q: I can’t see ever giving up my cellphone for the peace of mind it brings me knowing that my elderly mother can always reach me and the same for my adult kids who live far from us.
A: Well, I hear that. I have non-grown kids and a wife, and it does worry me a bit to not have a cell phone when I’m out. However, the times when I’ve actually needed the cell phone for such a dreaded emergency has been zero. So it’s not a grounded fear, at least not in my case. Every person has a different situation, though.

Q: On the coffee habit, are you replacing with a caffeine-free tea? That would seem to make a big difference.
A: No, I plan to drink mostly green teas and oolongs. The caffeine isn’t an issue for me — I’m used to a lot of caffeine so the amount in tea isn’t really noticeable. I also don’t usually get a crash in the afternoon.

“Sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a time” – I think that is a great idea. I will certainly do this next month. Will you use any special software on the computer or outside of the computer as a reminder ?

Q: Sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a time — will you use any special software on the computer or outside of the computer as a reminder?
A: Yes, I’ll probably use a computer reminder. I’ve used Mindful Mynah in the past and like it, but I’ll figure that out when I start.

Suggestion from reader: Perhaps I would just downgrade to a vintage no frills phone, instead of a phone.
Leo: Yes, I had a no-frills phone until about a month ago, and liked it. Even that’s not always necessary.

Suggestion from reader: When you give up watching movies with your wife in the evening, maybe replace that “together” time with playing a game or some other activity that you do together. I imagine the reading would replace the alone movie watching you do, but was just thinking about the together time.
Leo: That’s a great point. Will talk to Eva about this.

Suggestion from reader: For your month without computer, may I suggest you try writing with a fountain pen? Anything with a reasonably fine nib and good flow will do. You might like how it glides effortlessly across the paper, how your thoughts literally pour out in liquid ink. Add a cup of tea and you could have a great morning ritual.
Leo: I love this idea!

Suggestion from reader: Two words: walking desk. Saves you from the long sit. My husband and I created one for me very inexpensively using a thrift store treadmill. 
Leo: I’ll consider this. I’ve tried something similar and found I want to sit every now and then because my legs get tired after awhile.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Chapters
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment
How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life
Tips for Traveling with Kids
My Grand Travel Experiment
The Parent I Aspire to Be
The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning
The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief
7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People
Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks
Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges
The 30-Day Learning Challenge
The Place Where You Are
Feeling Determined to Change
Practicing Non-Judgment
Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire
Don’t Waste Your Opportunity
How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training
The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content
A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method
When Others Frustrate You
Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality
The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play
Leave Yourself Wanting More
Fail Faster at Habits
The Anti-Bucket List
Getting Started with the Discipline Habit
The Case for Caring About Your Work
Questions of Priority
The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More
Pare Down with the Declutter Habit
You’re Not Doing Life Wrong
Getting Lost in Just Doing
An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit
The Source of Contentment
Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves
What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It”
The Things That Get in the Way of Doing
The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions
A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating
Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself
My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive
The Contentment Habit
The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books
In Praise of Limits
The Art of Being My Dad
5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015
Essential Zen Habits of 2014
Karate Chop
Practicing Slowness & Being Present
Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make
My 2014 Successes and Failures
Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life
When You’re Lonely
The Brain’s Fast Mode
5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays
The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide
The Four Hidden Habit Skills
The Power of Delay
Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess
Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book
Please Support the Zen Habits Book
Are You a Lift or Drag Force?
When Resistance Smacks You in the Face
When Your Plate is Too Full
The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit
The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done
A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize
The Empty Container
The Realization
A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors
Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation
It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits
The Smart Way to Stick to Habits
My Most Effective Learning Tools
What I Do When I Fail
How to Put Your Writing in Public
The Productive Sprint
The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits
Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear
What to Eat for Fat Loss
The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification
How to Get Motivated After a Vacation
7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction
How to Breathe
7 Discipline-Mastering Practices
7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple
An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada
The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes
How to Believe in Yourself
Don’t Waste a Moment
How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach
How to Be Great
Making Yourself Work
Inhabit the Moment
How to Master the Art of Living
The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day
Living the Simple Life
How to Be Prepared for Anything
Turn Toward the Problem
The End of the Day Philosophy
The Painful Beauty of Impermanence
How to Change Other People
Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You
The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home
Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent
Looking for Love
How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed
Why We Have Regret
The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons
A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism
The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes
My Struggles with Eating Boring Food
The No Procrastination Challenge
Creating a Lovely Morning
A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women
Turn Inspiration Into Action
Coming Back From a Setback
The Gift
A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life
No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids
How to Make a Marriage Work
Love Notes
Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness
The Letting Go Ebook, Free
The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit
How I Tackle a Big Writing Project
The Habit Action List
The Reality of This Moment
Confidence in Your Business
10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do
On Making It Through Tough Journeys
The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most
What to Think About During Exercise
You’ll Be OK
The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life
A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless
The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome
You’re Not Worse Than Other People
Being Mindful of Your Stress
What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself?
The Universe of a Single Task
Simplifying Is Painful
Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant
How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life
The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress
My Month Without a Smartphone
What I’ve Learned as a Writer
What the Exercise Habit Did For Me
Fear is the Root of Your Problems
This Moment
36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits
The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums
How I Conduct My Business
Constant Task Switching
The Habits of Five Amazing Founders
The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation
What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project?
I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!
Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone
Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem
Letting Go of Judging People
Don’t Scratch the Itch
Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery
How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit
Zen Productivity
When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation
The Child That Holds Us Back
Stateless Mindset
My Month of (Almost) No Internet
12 Changes for 2014
Essential Zen Habits of 2013
The Fear of Being Alone
The Calm Approach
Things Every Man Should Own
Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground
Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled
A Method to Find Balance
16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon
The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge
Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast
Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship
How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go
Finding Focus
When You Run Out of Ideas
The Necessary Art of Subtraction
Jealousy & Suffering
How Creativity Works, & How to Do It
Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences
Make It Your Job
Developing Selfless Compassion
Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong
A Month Without Sugar
Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations)
12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools
Burn Down the Farm
My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet
The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee
3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You
My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet
Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities
My Pursuit of the Art of Living
A Month Without TV or Video
The Way of No Debt
Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One
The Way to Be
Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits
The Time to Shut Down
The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes
8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator
Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind
Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different
Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food
My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’
The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life
Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice
Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling
My Advice for Starting a Business
Creating Your Habit Environment
Travel Lessons with My Family
Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments
Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches
The Fear of Being Found a Fraud
The Flexible Mind
Declutter Your Life
A Month Without Coffee
The Healthful Vegan Diet
Living the Quiet Life
The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully
Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life
The Habits of Happiness
How to Keep Habits Going During Travel
A Year of Living Without
The Key Habits of Organization
I Failed
Vegan Guide to San Francisco
The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others
A Secret to Dad Greatness
Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything
The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now
6 Steps To Being More Creative
How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems
Working with the Obstacles in Your Path
9 Rules for a Simpler Day
The Little Book of Contentment
The Obstacle is the Path
5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger
Smile in Each Moment
A Guide to Practical Compassion
6 Steps To Healing Yourself
The 7-Day Vegan Challenge
Why You Should Write Daily
Achieving Without Goals
Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)
Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal
Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose
Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger
A Guide to Practical Contentment
The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously
How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen
Quitting Your Habits
The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers
How To Make It Impossible To Fail
The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur
How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide
Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes
How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart
Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress
Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart
Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit
Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For
Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation
Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years
Walled-in: Life Without Facebook
The 7 Habits of Calmness
The Four Habits that Form Habits
Advice to My Kids
My 10 Essential Email Habits
The Daily Checklist
Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide
The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring
The Power of Habit Investments
Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe
The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early
Do Less: A Short Guide
How to Savor Life
What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World
Simplify the Internet
12 Rules to Live By
The New Rules of Fitness for 2013
52 Changes for 2013
The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program
Essential Zen Habits of 2012
The Other Person is Never the Problem
The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do
28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life
The Clutter-free Holiday Guide
The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better
Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck
The Work You Love is Waiting For You
The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing
The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide
Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013
How to Learn Anything
Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken
Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring
15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit
How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet
Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan
The Willingness to Think Differently
Create a Superhealth Community
A Vegan Tour of NYC