Get it on Google Play
Download on the App Store

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
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