Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lessons We Didn't Learn on the PCT, Part One: Minimalism

A particularly barren stretch of trail in the northern Sierra

Ask anyone who’s hiked the Pacific Crest Trail what they learned from the experience, and almost every one will tell you, “I learned that stuff just wasn’t that important.” The hiker will then go on to wax poetic about how the trail inspires minimalism and simplicity, showing how dissatisfying material possessions are and how little we must own to be happy.

Zach and I are not those people. 

Now, don’t get me wrong— I’m a huge fan of minimalism. In fact, I try to live my life with that mentality. (Two of my favorite inspirations, here and here.) But, as the most thoughtful minimalists point out, a life of simplicity is not achieved simply by eliminating stuff. 

Over the course of the trail, we grew to appreciate material possessions and services more than ever before. No, we don’t need much to get by (and Zach and I don’t own that much stuff). But life is so much happier and easier when we have things. 

Consider laundry, for instance. For five months, Zach and I only had access to one set of clothing. Whenever we wanted to do laundry, we were stuck wearing some of the clothes we wanted to wash. Zach wore his long underwear and his rain jacket. I wore my shorts and a rain jacket. These items never got washed. It was so much work!

Pictured: pizza buffet instead of camp-stove cooking
Another example is cooking. We had one pot, two bowls, two sporks, and a knife. We could only eat a few different kinds of food, which took forever to prepare because of our tiny stove. Afterward, I had to clean up with cold water (and no soap), without a sink.

At nighttime, we had to set up our tent, blow up our sleeping pads, and crawl over each other to get settled. Every morning, it took forever to pack up our stuff, making sure that everything was in the right place. And don’t even get me started about going to the bathroom!

Compare that to now, when we each have seven or eight changes of clothes (the rest are in storage). It’s easier to layer, easier to do laundry, easier to not think obsessively about the logistics of taking showers and doing laundry and thinking of how those two activities must precisely coincide to avoid either of us ending up naked in the middle of a town. I can use five different pots in the kitchen to cook multiple kinds of food at once, and I can throw the plates in the dishwasher after a meal. When we’re tired, we can just go to bed. When nature calls, we don’t have to worry about a trowel.

In the end, it’s important not to romanticize owning less stuff, as if that automatically makes your life easier. On the PCT, we learned that owning things can, and often does, create a simpler life.

Tomorrow… Part Two!

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