Need Less. Be More.

“What are you willing to give up?”

That was the response Sonnie Trotter, a professional Rock Climber, gave in reply to the prosaic question from the audience that asked “How can I have a life like yours?

I was sitting in the back row at the ACC Clubhouse in Canmore, AB. Sonnie had just given a demonstration on a recent climb and opened up the floor for questions. When he responded I could tell from the slumping shoulders of the individual who had asked the question that it wasn’t the response he was looking for.

Giving up stuff sucks, especially our comforts. But I do agree with Sonnie. If you want to wedge a new way of living into your life then something else is going to have to get shunted out in the process.

I say I agree with Sonnie, but I didn’t choose to be this way, it happened rather organically as a result of wanting to need less when camping high in the mountains. The more I climbed and the tighter my shoulders got from carrying heavy and cumbersome overnight packs the more I analyzed the contents of them to reduce weight.

I’m not a true Ultralight Backpacking follower, but I do believe an individual should be critical of everything that goes into their pack. I ask “Why do I need this item? Can I replace it with something else? What happens if I don’t bring it?

I got into a rhythm of doing this and over time it became natural. What started to happen though was that the principles from it started to bleed into my everyday life.

So, I’ve compiled some advice below on ways in which you can start to “need less”. “Being more” will come naturally as a result. What happens when you need less is that you have more time and money to put towards the things you really want to do. Will it be easy at first, probably not. Will you eventually love doing it, I guarantee it.

This list of advice isn’t conclusive and feel free to comment with your own advice. I might revisit the subject in a while if I make additional changes that I think are worth knowing. But anyway, here goes

First, you need to understand your needs, then understand which of them can be reduced or removed. If you’re like me you’ll soon realize that many of your “needs” were actually just “wants” all along.

The easiest way to start is with consumables.

Personal consumables in my life are: Food & Drink, Gas, Toiletries, Electricity, Heating, Other Stuff.

Food & Drink:
– The number 1 piece of advice I can give everyone about food is STOP EATING OUT. It costs so much money. I guess I have perspective, but I would rather eat a frozen peanut butter and banana bagel on the summit of a mountain with friends than spend over $100 in a restaurant that, if you asked me about a month later, I will have forgotten what I even ate.

– Reduce quantities. We all know the stuff we eat or drink that we shouldn’t. Don’t cut them out, just reduce the quantities. For me, I’ve reduced the quantities on quite a few foods now to the point that I don’t eat them at all anymore.

– Vices. These can be anything really and are usually the hardest to give up, like coffee, alcohol, chocolate. Just reduce the quantities over time or reward yourself with them after achieving something you truly have sought after. I reserve food I love now for the end of a hard climb or hike, when I feel I’ve earned them, and you know what, they taste better now than they ever did sitting on the couch after dinner.

Sunrise on Brandywine

Gas:
Gas is one of those trickle costs that I don’t think a lot of people are conscious about. We fill up the tank of our vehicle and grumble about the high cost but as soon as we roll out of the station that money is gone and forgotten. We use our vehicle when we could easily walk or bike and don’t factor the cost of that trip in fuel money in the future. I’m lucky enough that I can bike to work but I think even if I worked 100km’s away I’d still drive a portion of it and then bike the rest.

I love switching biking for driving as it not only saves me wear and tear on my vehicle and gas money but it also keeps me healthier and stronger.

Climbing Smoke Bluffs

Toiletries:
We’ve all seen those toothpaste commercials where the guy puts a massive line of toothpaste on his toothbrush. I’ve never used even close to that amount but I understand why they advertise it that way, you’ll finish the tube sooner and have to buy more.

You can apply the same principle that stops you using more than the needed amount of toothpaste to everything in the bathroom, from toilet paper, to shampoo and conditioner… etc. Just decrease the quantity of each product until you reach the minimum you are willing to use. I guarantee you will be definitely surprised with just how little you actually need to use.

In doing this I have discovered that I do not need to use shampoo at all for my hair type and length. I just use a pea size amount of conditioner. I’ve also discovered that when I am in work, which is air conditioned, I don’t sweat a lot, so every second day of the week I don’t use body wash, I just rinse with water. This not only saves me time but almost halves the amount of body wash products I need to purchase per year.

I’m going to add in here Haircuts as it comes under personal maintenance. If you’re a guy, then cut your own hair or if your better half, like mine, is willing, get them to do it for you. You can save a considerable amount of money doing this. If you’re a girl, you can definitely learn online how to trim your hair. Like everything, figure out your priorities, do you want to be able to take the summer off to go rock climbing? Then forgo those killer bangs that will set you back $100 at least every few months.

Electricity:

Saving electricity is a pretty tired topic as there are a multitude of reasons to use less energy. You know what you need to do, unplug adapters, keep lights off, … etc. View it as a challenge. Every time you get your Electricity bill try and reduce it further the next month.

Climbing Mount Howard

Heating:
I find it personally outrageous that people heat every cubic foot of air in their houses so that the air directly against their skin can feel warm. If you calculate how much air actually needs to be warm compared to how much you are paying to heat it it’s ridiculous.

The solution is simple, put on more clothes. I guess because I spend time in the mountains I have a lot of light, simple clothes that are excellent at retaining body heat. Where I live humidity can get above 80% and the temperatures can drop below -10’c but we rarely need to have our heaters on in the Winter.

Skiing Mount Washington

Other Stuff:
This is basically everything else that you own that is not helping you get to where you want to go. Doodads, Trinkets, Ornaments, Furniture… you know, stuff. I almost didn’t include this section as, for us, we’ve been reducing the pointless stuff consumption for a while now and it’s just my “normal” to not have a load of items laying around.

Before moving from Ireland I had loads of “stuff”. Boxes of items I had started collecting or amassing that brought me nothing but the headache of trying to find out where to store it all. When I came to Canada I knew I couldn’t bring it with me so I sold it all off or gave it away. I thought it might upset me but actually it was a huge relief. Being able to fit all of my possessions in the world into 1x25kg suitcase was liberating. I realized that I’d wasted a lot of money on those items and swore to never do it again, and I haven’t.

In regards to furniture. It is very easy, especially on the West Coast of Canada where I’m currently located, to furnish an apartment for free. We’ve used craigslist and word of mouth with friends. It’s amazing the amount of perfectly good furniture people throw away because it doesn’t fit their decor. Most of the furniture in our apartment at the moment was acquired for absolutely no money other than the gas to transport it. It’s not falling apart, flea ridden or with peculiar stains under the seat cushions as you’d imagine of something with “Free” in the title. These items come from people who like to furnish and refurnish the rooms of their houses at least once a year and don’t want the hassle of trying to sell it off.

Try it out for yourself. Start out with something innocuous like a coffee table and see what you can find.

Biking South Chilcotins

Moving past consumables, the next set of “needs” I started to examine was pulls on my personal free time.

My number one piece of advice here is to reduce your Fiction consumption. If you watch a lot of TV, Movies or read a lot of Fictional books then reduce it. They’re great for sparking the imagination in small doses but don’t lose yourself in it. I’ve found much more worth in factual accounts that teach me something real then getting perpetually distracted in Fiction and Fantasy media. If you’ve been following some TV show for years and know you lost interest in it 3 seasons ago but are still watching it in the hopes that it turns around then just drop it now. Replace it with documentaries or read a factual book relating to your true passions.

Further to this, just examine where the time in your day goes. Keep a firm work/life line. I might delve into this further in the future as currently it is still something I am working on.

Ice Climbing Canmore

In being as I have described above I have been able to free up enough time per week to learn more about all the interests I have (Camping, Skiing, Climbing, Mountaineering, Hiking, Biking) and am free most weekends to spend them practicing these interests. Reducing my consumable needs has freed up enough money also that I can quickly buy all the equipment needed for these activities.

Something I hear a lot from people when they find out myself and my wife had zero outdoor gear when we moved to Canada in 2010 (not even a pair of hiking boots) to having enough equipment now to be self-sufficient in all our interests is “How can you afford it?”. My answer is: “Everyone in the Western world can afford it”

“Quality of life should not be confused with the concept of standard of living”

We don’t work jobs that pay amazing wages, if anything we are earning a lot less in Canada then we were earning when we both worked in Ireland. The difference is we’ve turned off most if not all of the leaky taps on our finances. We forego that expensive dinner out a few times a month for a new set of ice tools and crampons and pay to take an ice climbing course. We reduce our food and drink vices and buy Mountain Bikes and other biking equipment. We bike and walk to work every day and save enough on gas money and vehicle repairs and tune ups to afford not only Downhill Ski setups but AT Ski setups also.

My eventual goal is to be in a position to take 6 months off per year, if not more. Once we’ve purchased all our gear and know all the requisite skills I feel it will be easy. Our needs by then will already be as lean as possible and we’ll be efficiently using our time and money to feed our passions.

You can do it also. Just start with the question “What am I willing to give up?” and go from there.

Camping on the summit of Little Diamond Head

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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5 Comments

  1. Inspirational to say the least!

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  2. People often miss the most obvious way of “needing less” which is to need less outdoor gear. Get one pair of all round skis – won’t be perfect, but will be good enough, same goes for almost every other item of outdoor gear – one tent, one pair of boots, etc.. And these are big ticket items compared to say, cutting down on shampoo. People have done epic trips on $8 skis from the second hand store.

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  3. This blog is fantastic! I am a minimalist and I agree with everything you wrote besides the fiction part. I love reading fiction and it gives me an excuse to go to the library (I don’t buy books, I borrow them) and bury myself in some fantasy novels. Its fun, gets my imagination going and I often draw ideas and scenes from novels for my drawing and painting hobbies. I think that fiction is a good escape, I am not sure why you listed it as a bad thing.

    Otherwise the rest is great. I live in Vancouver and know how cold it gets sometimes, especially in the winter so the heat is tempting. Which is why I love to get out the woolly socks and warm sweater! Eating out is also a good one, because not only is it expensive but you don’t know what goes in it. Cooking at home allows you to monitor your ingredients better and choose healthier, less greasy options.

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    • Hey GoingGreen, thanks for commenting.

      So, I indulge in fiction from time to time currently but it is always in the back of my mind that I should really cut back more. I will be making a life change pretty much to that effect in the next few weeks. Stay tuned, it’s kinda crazy and stranger than fiction, haha!!!

      The reason for this is that, if I see fiction as an escape, what am I escaping from? Why is it that parts of my life need escape in fiction?

      I will say this, when I am in the mountains, exploring new areas, testing myself physically or mentally, no part of me yearns to escape those experiences with fiction, I don’t miss it. If I was to fill my life with those moments, if all of us did, we’d all never need fiction.

      Life should always entertain our minds. If it doesn’t then I know something is wrong and I use a lot of the time I would normally spend indulging in fiction with planning to make changes to my life to fix this need.

      The way I see it, the world is vast and strange and real people have experienced actual, spectacular events that no fiction could ever match. I search out those stories and accounts first.

      Like I said though, fiction definitely has a place, like if I’m trapped in a tent for a few days in a storm (and actually need an escape) but for myself, I like to consume it in small quantities. I find experiences in the real world have sparked my imagination far more than all the fiction I consumed before I moved from Ireland to the mountains of Canada.

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