Sipping Lightly From The Bottle of Comfort
Originally when I set out to write today’s post I had this epic idea about using discomfort to boost your productivity and speed the road to early retirement. Except that post ended up being terrible.
So today, because I lack the energy, you’re going to get a Black Friday Shopping post filled with discount promotions….
I realized late last night, (at 3AM while trying to put the baby back to sleep) that my original post about discomfort didn’t sing true. I happen to like a little comfort at times! So I scrapped the whole post and started over. What resulted is this post.
Now you get to see what happens when I try to write a blog post on only a few hours of sleep. (I apologize in advance for any errors or oddball sentences)
Human energy is limited.
I’ll give you an example to illustrate: When you have kids (or other major responsibilities), there’s no time for anything else. They consume your life energy. Nearly every waking hour is spent focused on those kids — Feeding those kids, changing those kids….trying to get them to sleep. If they’re up late, then you’re up late (like I was last night).
Most people don’t have the energy to cook a homemade meal every day, chop wood for heat, hand wash their clothes in the stream, and ride a bike everywhere. We should, but the sad truth is….we don’t. There’s only so much energy a human can give in a day.
Some days you wake up after only a couple hours of sleep and think to yourself, “Crap, I need more sleep, but I have to get this damn blog post out today!”
In my mind, humanity’s greatest inventions have been the those that allow us to be extremely lazy and still survive.
When you think about it, the human condition has really changed. A mere five hundred years ago, a person’s main goal just was just to survive – get enough to eat, find shelter to survive the elements, and to raise our young before we perish.
Now, we’ve conquered survival. We create our own artificial environments indoors to simulate the perfect human environment. With a sturdy insulated roof over our heads and climate control, the coldest winter nights and the hottest summer days no longer threaten our existence.
When we get hungry, instead of hunting wild game, we just pop on over to the nearest grocery store or restaurant in the car. Zero effort required.
Humanity was once defined by its struggle to survive, but that’s no longer the case. Now we focus all our time on taking hot showers, eating awesome tacos, and watching Netflix.
But what toll does all this comfort cause our finances? Does having comfort in our lives mean we stay enslaved to our corporate masters? Does it mean no financial independence?
Well, there’s this gigantic rumor floating around about being a FI millionaire and deprivation.
Many people (falsely) believe you need deprive yourself of all possible comfort to achieve financial independence. I’m writing to say this is 100% false. It’s bogus. As bogus as all the offers I receive to write blog posts for $1. (Seriously, just stop emailing me about it!)
On the road to financial independence, Mrs. Tako and I enjoyed many comforts along the way — There were countless meals at good restaurants. We took international vacations nearly every year. There were hot showers every day, well flushed toilets, and we lived in reasonably well heated apartments.
We lived a pretty cushy life by some standards of spartan living.
I think the key to our success wasn’t banning all comfort from life, but indulging very lightly. We sipped lightly from the cup of luxury.
It’s very possible to indulge in every luxury available to modern life … but that’s going to eat through your cash like a pack of wild dogs in a bacon factory.
No, we maintained our high savings rate NOT because we were this super frugal couple, but because we used modern comforts sparingly.
Comfort is a bit like a bottle of vodka. There are days when life is rough and you need a drink from that ole’ Bottle of Comfort. But don’t drink deeply. Sip at life’s comforts sparingly. You’ll appreciate them more. If you consume too much, you’ll end-up getting addicted.
If I was a cynic, I might suggest that’s humanity’s only purpose right now is the search for luxury. But that’s going too far…
While the struggle to survival might no longer be an issue, humanity still has a great many difficulties to resolve. Many of the more common struggles are now financial in nature — paying off debt, earning a decent wage, healthcare, and saving for emergencies.
But eventually even those struggles can be conquered — debts can be paid down, better jobs can be found, and retirement savings can grow. Save 50% of your salary for long enough, invest that savings well, and financial independence can even be a possibility.
Eventually, your biggest worry becomes where to find a good taco on Saturday night and which fancy phone to buy this year.
That’s when the problems start — when life gets so damn comfortable the biggest worry on our mind is what to buy. That’s when you know comfort addiction has started to seep in.
Practice Going Without
When you see comfort addiction setting in, it’s time to take action. Do something before you get stuck on that endless hamster wheel of comfort.
You need to step-off for awhile. How? Try out some of these ideas:
- Take cold showers for a week instead of hot showers.
- Walk or run to work next week instead of driving.
- Skip eating on alternate days.
- Cancel your cable and Netflix for 6 months.
- Try a ‘no sitting’ week (other than when sleeping, driving, or pooping).
- Engage in a no-grocery-shopping month.
- Give up caffeine for two weeks.
- Turn the heat off for a couple days in the winter (but don’t let the pipes freeze)
- Don’t eat meat for a month.
- Don’t drink for a year.
- Enforce a week of “no internet” (other than what might be required for work)
Please note: I’m not suggesting you need to give up comfort permanently. You’ll notice that each of these ideas is time-limited. Just halt the endless fountain of comfort for a little while. Remember what life is like without.
Yes, life is going to suck a little bit when you try some of these. That’s the whole point. Are you a giant consumer wimp whose very existence is addicted to comfort? Or, are you strong enough to survive and thrive without the modern world’s “necessary comforts”? You won’t know until you try…
I suggest trying out as many of these as possible. Invent some of your own too. Life is one big science laboratory. Experiment!
Believe it or not, most of the items on that list I’ve actually tried. Some, like drinking, and cable/Netflix, I’ve given up completely. Others, I compromised on — I have home internet access but decided I don’t need a mobile data plan. Other comforts you might find you can’t go without — I’m never going to give up hot showers if I can help it. (Seriously, that cold shower shit is torture!)
You learn a lot about yourself by practicing purposeful discomfort. Stepping off the hamster wheel makes you REALLY appreciate how wonderful our modern lives are. You might even find that many of life’s comforts are worth working hard for….
Especially when you’ve been up all night with the baby, and desperately want life to be a little easier.
[Image Credit: Flickr]
22 thoughts on “Sipping Lightly From The Bottle of Comfort”
I think the concept of forcing some discomfort is pretty creative and can be very positive. For most of the fat and soft Americans it would be good for us to do this for a week or two. Going camping is a great way to do this. Me and the family have been doing more and more of that recently and one of the benefits, aside from having a great time together with no electronic devices, is forcing some discomfort. This makes the return home absolutely outstanding. Getting back in a bed and having a shower become exciting things rather than just the routine.
Camping is a great idea! Love it!
My initial thought when I looked at your list – “Impossible!” (while sipping my starbucks coffee and using my heated back massager). But I guess that just shows how accustomed I’ve become to having everything. Bring on the cold showers… thanks for the challenge!
Enjoying a luxury on a regular basis has diminishing returns as you grow accustomed to it. Taking a break is a nice way to appreciate the luxuries we have, and you can enjoy them even more afterwards.
I think I’ll skip out on the cold showers though. I’m saving enough heating the house with our wood stove 🙂
My wife loves to live without a little comfort every once in awhile. She’ll announce that it’s survival weekend and we’ll try to live like cavemen for the weekend. It’s a little weird not turning on the lights or some of the other modern conveniences. But definitely makes for an interesting weekend without some of the basics comforts.
Thanks for sharing and my son just turned 14 months so I know all too well about sleepless nights 🙁
A survival weekend sounds like a lot of fun!
Lent is a great time to practice giving up some comforts that we take granted. You don’t even have to be Catholic to deprive yourself of something for seven weeks.
“Sipping lightly” will keep you off that dastardly hedonic treadmill.
This is so true. It’s okay to have your creature comforts, as long as they aren’t hindering your progress. Why chain yourself to working for 50 years to finance unnecessary and expensive habits? What’s right for one person won’t be right for everyone, but it’s all about learning what you REALLY need to survive (not a lot) and going from there to decide what comforts are worth sacrificing your money.
Well said Mrs. Picky Pinchers
Curious to know how the Turkey Day fast went, Mr Tako. While you were practicing voluntary discomfort, I was full engaged in grossly negligent over-eating, nearly ruining 15 months of a pescaterian diet by giving in to turkey peer pressure. (In the end, I was strong and just overrate all the trimmings.)
At any rate, here’s an experiment from my blog to add to your list: the voluntary brownout. Kill all the power in your house for an evening and enjoy dinner by candlelight and maybe some real music!
The fasting went well. I’ve experimented with it before, and actually really enjoy the results. Food actually tastes better after not eating for awhile. It’s like someone takes the flavor knob and turns it up to 11.
I’m very much a fan of forcing us into discomfort. I’m not frugal… at. all. And, I don’t live in what many Americans would consider luxury, but it feels way too comfortable for me at times. I’m struggling with that now. Because of FIRE, at 43, I don’t have to work, but I do work part time. I don’t have a car, but I live in an urban area, so anything I need is no further than 4 blocks away. I can afford any kind of food that I want. I can go out to eat and drink whenever I want.
So, I’m trying to create more discomfort in my life. And, I agree, that it can greatly increase your productivity. Right now, I’m focusing on food. It kills me that so many Americans are stuffed, while so many people in the U.S. and around the world are starved. My goal is that every meal I skip, I will put money aside to donate to those less fortunate who don’t have access to fresh food, clean water, or know where their next meal is coming from. I did a post on my website last week on “Feasting and Fasting” that you might enjoy.
Also, I try to do a ‘walkabout’ once a month, where I walk for 4 hours with an undetermined path and no particular end point. I just walk where it feels right and explore different neighborhoods.
I’ve always liked that concept, the one of reducing the frequency of certain comforts/luxuries/treats so you’ll enjoy them more when you do experience them. I first read about it long ago in The Tightwad Gazette where Amy Dacyczyn wrote about how happy her kids were with their ice cream cone treats in the mall. If they started to get bored of those, some parents would simply buy up to banana splits in an effort to “wow” their kids-but she would decrease the frequency of the cones.
I echo what Patient Wealth said above about camping helping with this. We go camping for a week every year, and several weekends with the Boy Scouts, and it really does help me to better appreciate all the little luxuries around the house I might otherwise take for granted.
P.S. I have three boys, including an 18 month old, so I know all about the sleepless nights. Believe it or not you’ll miss it when its gone – not the lack of sleep, but the snuggly little person that wants their mom or dad. It goes by faster than you think it will.
“Practicing purposeful discomfort” – I think this is something we can all do to appreciate things more! You’ve given us some great examples too. I am interested in the fasting piece and am thinking of giving that a try. We also just talked about not purchasing a camper (that was our original plan) and using our van instead and roughing it more for a trip next year. We can then decide if the “discomfort” we practice is really that uncomfortable for a major purchase! Great thoughts here!
We’re running things a little bit like you do (although we haven’t reached FI yet!). We believe that you still need to enjoy some of the pleasures that life offers, but you just can’t do it all the time.
Our big indulgement is vacationing – and not all of ’em are cheap. Cruises put you in the lap of luxury for a week and we love ’em. We just don’t go on them all the time.
Your challenges scare me – makes me want to curl up in a little ball and cry. 🙂 I did try not drinking for 90 days last year and that went well. Although I’ve cut back, I don’t think I could do a year – that one ice cold beer on a Friday seems to make all the week’s fun disappear! 🙂
They wouldn’t be challenges if they were easy Jim!
Great post- I mean really nicely done. Deprivation does not have to feel Spartan. We can enjoy scarcity. I keep telling my wife I want to give up coffee and she thinks I am nuts. I am going to try and be mustachian and buy a bike to commute 3.4 miles to work. These are the things I am going to try and do. Will they save me money. Unlikely to save a lot, but they will make me healthier (the bike will…not so sure about the coffee) and I think it will give me some more motivation.
I vote for going camping too. Taking cold shower at home is NOT going to fly with the missus.
We sip pretty light from the luxury cup too. Life is already pretty darn good.
This trip to SE Asia introduced us to the life of luxury, though. It was nice to not cook/clean/do chores for 3 weeks. It wasn’t very expensive either. Coming back to the rainy weather was a bummer. I’m ready to move to Thailand, but the timing isn’t quite right…
Take me with you to Thailand! I want to dry out!
When you face some discomfort in life that’s when you realize how awesome your life is. I gave up caffeine for almost 2 months and didn’t miss a thing. I now drink coffee here and there only because I choose to (I like the taste), not because I have to. That itself is very powerful.
Fantastic post….there was another gentleman many years ago that was a huge advocate for the same thing…a guy named Kurt Hahn. His life’s philosophy of the many educational programs he started was that “there is more in you than think.” (summed up rather nicely I think!). Further exploration into this one comes across his core tenets “I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self denial, and above all, compassion.” I’m not sure which one of these I like the most but there’s power in “the sensible self-denial” that you’re a proponent of….or stepping out of your comfort zone. One of the schools he started was Outward Bound and having worked there for many years I believe just the same as you there’s much to gain when you step out of your comfort zone! thanks for the reminder.
I had to laugh at your lead graphic – non-alcoholic vodka – surely that’s water? but upon googling I found it’s a real thing – and expensive to boot – I still think it’s water 🙂