Seven years ago, my wife (then girlfriend) and I sold the majority of our belongings and moved to Central America in search of a simpler life. The journey was rich. The lessons were profound. And at times, it was neither. When we moved back to the states and resettled in Denver we had what I thought to be clearer vision and a revitalized outlook on life, having learned, in some respects, how to better “suck the marrow” by living a simpler, more deliberate life.  We were more purposeful and thoughtful in doing the things that we did and, when necessary, marched to beat of our own drum rather than the noisy clamor of the band that played around us.

However, the din of the mainstream chips away at you and it is evident that over time we have lost touch with our drum. Since then we have moved from our sparse one bedroom apartment to a three bedroom home, complete with garage, dog, and child (not necessarily in that order).  We filled that house with things and the garage with the overflow despite my ongoing efforts to balance the amount of “stuff” in our lives and the time we spend maintaining it.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do so, and do not intend to sound otherwise. It is amazing to live in a place where I can do something I love, make enough money to provide more than my family needs, and have enough time and energy left over to dedicate to  my family, my friends, my hobbies, or my community. I’m grateful that the opportunity is there, and shudder at the thought of living a life without freedom, opportunity, and creature comforts.

However, in just seven years, we’ve lost touch with what we found in Central America. Our entertainment has elevated from voracious reading, long walks, great conversations and dramatic sunsets to a flat screen television equipped with cable, several computers, and movies constantly delivered to our door. Once travelling primarily by foot, pedal and bus (and the frequent hitchhiked trip in the back of a stranger’s pick-up truck) we have accumulated two cars and enough bikes to stock the next Tour de France. We have gone from living off an extremely meager savings and a dollar an hour job running an internet café (<- this is not a typo) to scouring our credit card bills to figure out where the money from two middle class jobs has gone in the matter of four weeks. The list goes on.  I feel bloated and gluttonous after a Thanksgiving meal and I’m afraid that I no longer savor the taste of each bite. Certainly some of these choices are the result of raising a family or working professional jobs, and ever growing responsibility but I don’t think it extreme that perhaps we don’t need to consume the way that we do. Perhaps it is possible to live life as a family in the U.S. that chooses their own path, ignores the steady beat of the Jones’ drum and instead dances to the muffled thump of the drum within their own soul.

In a little over two months, I’m turning 35. I hope to use the time leading up to my birthday as an opportunity to right our course, if only slightly off kilter. We’d like to realign our stride with the beat of our own drum, and hopefully begin to remember the joys of simplicity while scaling back our consumption and appreciating that which we already have.

Sarah and I discussed this over dinner tonight, and we see a way for us to reel life back in. For the next 30 days (and hopeful 2.5 months) we will commit ourselves to the following:

1. No more buying.

Of course this doesn’t apply to groceries, toilet paper, or diapers. But the intent is to eradicate superfluous spending that currently eats away little by little at our monthly budget. Do we really need a new shirt? lamp? novel?  In most cases, the answer is no, and if we can’t manage to curb our spending for a month, then there are larger issues at hand.

2. Down with Screen Time!

We’ll be reducing our opportunities to zone out in front of the TV by canceling our cable and Netflix. Oh, so easy to be lulled into habit by our television! For many years we lived without one of these and the world still turned. Slowly it crept back into our lives until I was sitting in a Best Buy purchasing a large flat screen television and wondering which antennae would give me the best reception. (that antennae, incidentally, eventually morphed into cable)While we couldn’t justify ditching the TV entirely we do hope to only use it for the occasional quality movie and learning DVDs for Isabelle.

3. Down with Screen Time Part II!

Time wasting websites need to be taken out of my bookmarks. (dare I say, even Facebook!) There was a time when I intentionally didn’t know what was happening in the daily news and I couldn’t tell you what had been happening with my high school friends’ life. I don’t intend to argue for or against the fire hose of information of which I habitually drink but I do aim to significantly curb its use. Facebook is off limits for the month, I’ll be culling through my favorite blogs, and “internet time” is going to be radically dialed back to allow more moments of quiet and solitude during the morning, evening, and weekend. (if you haven’t noticed, this isn’t really a problem for Sarah which is why this was written in the “I” form)

4. Mindfully attempting to keep one car parked and not being used.

When we first moved back to the U.S. we bought a very inexpensive car for important trips but for the most part, we used bicycles, feet, and public transportation to get around town and the country. Frankly, it was usually more convenient to leave the car parked. Since then, we moved from our centrally located apartment and live farther from important amenities, friends, and restaurants. We had Isabelle, got a membership to CostCo, and put up a figurative white picket fence while we awaited our next 1.5 children.

To be fair, I put up a hissy fit about buying the second car, and do my best to stick to bicycling for transportation but the comforts have crept back into my life and rather than presume I’ll be riding my bicycle instead I’m choosing not to drive. This difference seems insignificant to those that haven’t been on both sides of this, but it is an important distinction indeed. So I think we can do better. I think we should do better. I bet we will do better. It is, after all, warm outside so it should in theory be easier to go without the warm and dry car when the weather is just fine anyway.

5. Get a wrap on eating out.

I think we could single handedly close our local restaurants just by scaling back on eating out. Once upon a time, a regular serving of beans and rice with a side of fruit was enough to satiate our desires. But times change I suppose. I’ve always thought eating out was a great way to reward oneself with something special, until we were eating out so much that it began to seem less special. This month, we’ll be dining in and hope that when we emerge from the other side of the tunnel that our local economy is still afloat.

I’m hopeful that the next month or two will be less about the absence of the above things and more about filling the gaps they create with more doing and being. So, while these are great reminders of what we will be attempting not to do, a few things I hope we’ll do more of include: cooking, conversing, playing, walking, biking, reading, writing, listening, dancing, drinking, eating, smiling, appreciating, feeling, and socializing.

And of course, I’ll be using this blog to write about the experience probably more for myself than for you, but this couldn’t be that interesting to you anyway.

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