On Reduction

Some years ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about how much we enjoyed camping. More specifically, we talked about how just sitting on a lawn chair in front of a fire, a cold beer in hand, and our muscles tired from working all day was the best.

As we worked the conversation to death (like we do), we started talking about how, if you look at it objectively, camping really should suck. First and foremost, you ditch all of the creature comforts like air conditioning, television, refrigeration, plumbing, etc., and then then you add mosquitoes and flies, too much sun or rain, a layer of grime, leaky tents, freezing nights, and so on.

So then, why do we think it’s the best?

What we came up with is a concept we coined Reduction. You could call it focus or simplification, but It boils down to this – we love camping because camping reduces us to the essentials of life, and there we discover life’s simplest satisfactions. It’s easy to love sitting in front of a campfire drinking a beer when you spent all afternoon chopping down tress and splitting firewood. The sense of accomplishment alone, right?

And that’s the point of camping – you shed all convenience and force yourself to earn something that you took for granted only moments ago. It’s not pleasure. It’s satisfaction. You laugh more. Simple things delight you. You listen better.

But if you know me well, you know I won’t be able to leave it at that. I think the concept of reduction can be applied to more than just camping.

In my opinion, we’re all suffering from too much of everything, too many choices. We’re all on overload, all the time.

Remember the days when renting a movie used to be an event? If you grew up like me, you actually had to go and rent the VCR (holler if you rented a VC Player) along with the movies you wanted to see. It was a big deal to head down to Movieland and spend $10 to rent the VC Player and two movies. We popped corn, tossed it with real butter in a stainless steel bowl, dashed it with salt, stirred Kool-Aid, and had the best freakin’ nights of our lives.

Oh, what’s that? What movies did we watch?

I have no idea.

And that’s the point. It didn’t matter what movies we watched because we were living in reduction. The choice wasn’t which movies, but whether or not we watched movies at all.

That’s binary, yo. Black or white. No shades of gray.

Want to know what happens to me today? Because I want convenience (and frankly, because they make it just cheap enough that I feel I’d be stupid not to spend the money) I have not just my Amazon Prime movies, but Netflix and HBO Go at my fingertips. That’s like going back in time and taking all three of Blockbuster, Family Video, and Hollywood Video, and then cramming them into one Wal-Mart sized store…

… and then being expected to walk in there and pick a movie? Fat chance. Have you ever heard the term paralysis by analysis? Want to know how many times Nic and I have flipped through our streaming movie choices for so long that we end up just turning off the TV and going to bed?

Lots.

Think that would happen to the twelve-year-old, Movieland-loving version of me? Fatter chance. I could reach blindly into the Horror section, pull a tape, and be thrilled as heck to watch whatever my stubby little hand retrieved.

So then, reduction seems good, right? But could I realistically apply the concept to my modern life?

Not in all ways, of course, but I’ve successfully been able to do it in a series of little ways, and I feel happier because of it. We, as a family, feel happier because of it.

The key is not to be tricked into the more is more trap. For example, there was a time when I was playing five or six games of Words with Friends with a bunch of different people. Want to know how many times a day my train of thought was interrupted by a Words notification? Like, a billion. So, in an effort to reduce, I decided I would only play a couple games at a time, maybe only one, and I would only make one play per day. Seems like a stupid little thing, but it reduced my stress and it made playing the game more satisfying.

Over the years I’ve done the same thing with so many little categories in my life, and it has added up to a less stressful life. Take something as simple as, say, getting pizza for dinner. Used to be we’d order pizza, chicken wings, bread-sticks, and a salad. Eff! Not only was it expensive and fattening as hell, but it was actually less satisfying than just getting one single pizza, which is what we do now. We’re reduced back to days when getting pizza meant just getting one damn pepperoni pizza, and if you wanted something other than that there’s peanut butter and jelly.

And we’re happier.

Truth told, I’ve never been happier in my entire life. Of course, I know there are other factors at play here (two little twerps come to mind ;), but I do attribute a lot of it to reduction. Clothes, shoes, cars, vacations, gadgets, toys, books, and even our social life… it’s all reduced now, and life just seems so much clearer and easy to manage.

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