Life Without Things

I am in Costa Rica, in the middle of a month-long stay, and I wanted to write a bit about my experience so far with the lack of “stuff” in my life.  I am renting a house on the beach at the very end of a long “road” that runs along the beach.  The house is great, but doesn’t have air conditioning (or heat), window shades, indoor showers, a dish washer, an oven, a disposal, a TV, a stereo, or any of the 10,000 items and appliances that I have at home. It’s a large open concrete and wood structure on top of a small hill, nestled in the jungle, overlooking the ocean.  It’s airy and takes advantage of the incredible ocean front views, and the near-constant breeze.

The kitchen has no measuring cups or teaspoons, and only a couple dull knives and basic pans.  Only three of the of the cook top burners work, and none of them allows much fine control of the heat.  Half of the lights don’t work.  If you close up the house, it becomes unbearably hot.  If you open it to allow the ocean breezes through, you also invite all the local wildlife in.

IMG_5106My workspace has my laptop sitting on top of an upside-down basket (so it’s at eye level), on a wooden table out on the porch, and a decidedly un-ergonomic dining chair to sit in.

I’m not complaining.  In fact just the opposite!  Instead of missing my Xbox and my motorcycles and my perfectly controlled temperature home, I’ve been finding some serious freedom and peace here.

I wake up around 5-5:30 AM, when the sun comes in the open sliding doors of my bedroom and the temperature starts to climb.  I walk down and swim in the ocean.  Then I shower outside on my deck overlooking the jungle.  I eat a small breakfast of soy milk and granola every day.  I’ll drink some watered down iced tea that I made hot the day before, and then put in the fridge overnight to chill.  I work best while it’s still reasonable cool (less than 90 degrees), from 6 AM until 2 or 3 PM.  The internet has been upgraded since I arrived and is now only 60 times slower than my connection at home, instead of the 1,000 times slower it was initially.  I’m still able to work, and even do some video calls with my team, but it means no downloading big installers or streaming Netflix or Hulu.  Everything I do online just has a little more care taken about how much bandwidth it will use.  In the heat of the afternoon I’ll usually take another dip in the ocean (although at that point the ocean feels about as hot as the air (90-95 degrees).  I’ll either work (slowly as my brain feels pretty cooked from the heat) or read in the shade.  Then I’ll usually try to go to a yoga class in town, cook dinner, and either work a little in the evening (usually on personal projects) or just read. I’m usually in bed by 8 or 9 PM and sleeping shortly after.

IMG_5154I do all my cooking with a cast iron frying pan, a pot, and a metal spatula.  At night all food stuffs have to be in the fridge or put in a cooking pot and locked in the cleaning closet.  Otherwise raccoons come and take them, usually leaving a mess.  It’s the jungle so insects are everywhere.  I’ve stopped caring about mosquitos, flies, bees, or ants.  Scorpions and LARGE spiders are the only roommates I try to evict.

I normally listen to music all the time.  I have Sonos at home, great headphones at the office, a killer sound system in my car, a nice turntable in my library, and usually there’s music around me any time that I’m awake.  Heck, my bathtub has speakers in it.  But here, while I have listened to music on my laptop a couple times, the vast majority of the time it’s just me, the ocean surf, and the howler monkeys.

Honestly I could have brought less stuff.  I have two pairs of sneakers, but I’m almost always barefoot or wearing flip flops.  I don’t need any long sleeves, or jeans.  If I could give up on shaving and beard management, like so many local ex-pats have, I could cut my toiletry kit in half (but I can’t seem to let it go).  I don’t need my GoPro, as I only went diving once and the visibility was quite poor.  There’s nothing to see snorkeling really so I could have left my mask and snorkel.  I think if I was re-packing for this trip I could probably be living out of my backpack and my camera bag.

With less stuff, and less options, life is simpler.  There are far fewer choices to make.  I’m spending a lot less time being entertained, and a lot more time thinking and soaking up my natural surroundings.  My sleep schedule is governed entirely by the sunrise and how tired I am.

Don’t get me wrong, when I get home I’m sure I will be THRILLED to make use of my fully stocked kitchen, drive my car (which I love), take a hot bath, turn on the air conditioning, watch a movie, and all that.  Those things are still nice and have value to me.

But it’s nice to know that I don’t need them, and that honestly life without all the luxuries and accessories can have its advantages.

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2 responses to “Life Without Things”

  1. Kelly G Avatar
    Kelly G

    What a perfect antidote to life. I’m so jealous. Enjoy the rest of your time there.

  2. joe gerardi Avatar
    joe gerardi

    Such a well written piece. Thanks.

    I struggle with ‘stuff’ as do so many people. I recently moved from california to texas and threw away and entire full size dumpster of ‘stuff’ and still have so much too much. Do I really need 7 bookcases of books, most of which I may never read again (but i MIGHT). and thats the problem!


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