When my work schedule puts me at my organization’s downtown office, I park on the roof of the 8-floor garage on the westernmost edge of campus, walk down eight flights of stairs to the exit, then trek a half mile or so through several buildings, skyways, and outdoor paths to the easternmost edge of campus, which is followed by four flights of stairs up to where my desk awaits. The return trip to my car is more or less the same route in reverse, though sometimes with a bit more in-building pathing due to certain outside doors being locked for security reasons. If the weather isn’t too bad and I have a few extra minutes, I’ll walk the eight stories back to my car “the long way” up the ramps rather than take the stairs.
It’s not that my employer doesn’t have elevators, escalators, or shuttles to help met get to where I need to go; rather, I purposely opt for hoofing it from point A to point B when possible. I’m not allergic to these conveniences, but I do view them as exactly that: conveniences, not necessities. Minimalism challenges me to identify the excesses in my life and remove them if possible; while “convenience” is not as easily identifiable as physical clutter, it is just as susceptible to excess and therefore just as targetable for elimination. As such, rather than trying to consume as much of this excess convenience as possible, I’ve chosen to let go of it. I do this intentionally and purposefully not because convenience is inherently wrong, but because being unconsciously dependent on excess convenience probably is. This shift in mindset has replaced the “hustle and bustle” of getting to work with structured opportunities to relax and think. I am setting my own comfortable pace instead of trying to fight for that prime parking space or impatiently waiting for the next elevator car to arrive, neither of which I actually needed in the first place.
That being said, there are certainly times when I am grateful for having ready access to that convenience when I need it. Sometimes I have no choice but to rush between buildings for meetings, and when that involves going up and down ten floors it’s often more time-effective to take the elevator. When I need to make a quick getaway from main campus after a single early-morning meeting, I will park in a 2-hour parking area that is much closer to my department building. And when Cleveland throws crazy weather at the campus (as Cleveland is wont to do), being able to get around campus entirely indoors is incredibly helpful to avoid becoming a soggy, windswept mess. But these are the exceptions, not the norms. Normally I am a healthy and active 30-something with no real physical limitations and with a bit of extra time to dedicate to taking a bit longer than theoretically necessary to get to where I need to go. I absolutely respect and appreciate the fact that others who are older, suffer from joint pain, are under immense stress, have a mobility impairment, or are otherwise in need of assistance can (and should) take advantage of these conveniences that modern society has to offer, and the moment I join this group of people (as we all eventually do) I will be grateful that these conveniences exist and that I can access them. But until then, I can choose to remove them from my normal routine and enjoy the sense of freedom and calm that this choice provides.
There are signs outside some stairwell doors at work that read “Free Exercise Equipment: Take the Stairs!” I’ve taken that to heart, and it’s done my heart (and mind) a lot of good. How would you feel if you shed your own reliance on excess convenience and set your own pace?
Over the course of the year I’ve worked to fine-tune my levels of convenience consumption. For example, during one of my 8-floor treks up the parking garage I realized part of the reason I was doing that was, at least in part, to avoid running on the treadmill (my replacement to outdoor running when the weather is too cold to run outside). After some reflection, I realized that my time would be more optimally spent running than walking, and walking up cold parking ramps in my work clothes while carrying my work briefcase was not that much less unappealing than soul-sucking (but still beneficial) treadmilling. So after some experimentation, I learned that parking on the 7th floor (which is usually the sweet spot of “time it takes to find a parking spot” and “time it takes to walk to/from a parking spot”) and taking the stairs (still a decent exercise as it works different muscle groups than walking) allowed me to save a good bit of time that I could re-invest in running upon arriving back home. This minimal increase in convenience consumption resulted in a disproportionate gain in my sense of well-being, so I was definitely willing to make that trade.
A more recent experiment involved removing all the extra plates, mugs, cups, and bowls that I wasn’t using on a daily basis (I eat a lot, but not that much) and placing them in a box in my closet. The goal here was to wean myself off of the convenience of having enough clean dishes to just toss them all into the dishwasher after a single use and instead be more mindful about how many dishes I actually needed to use in the first place. As it turns out, I’ve been able to function just fine with a couple bowls, a couple coffee mugs, and a few pieces of silverware and chopsticks for the vast majority of my meals, and hand-washing them after each meal isn’t any more bothersome than having to unload a whole dishwasher once or twice a week. True, I’m likely using more water as a result, but it does give me the opportunity to focus more on ensuring that what I use on a daily basis is beautiful (I’ve decided to use just those dishes I enjoy the most) and always clean and ready for use the next time I need it. Bonus: my cabinets are much less cluttered, too!