As far as lifestyles go, I believe I enjoy a pretty pampered one. I live in an apartment with two comfy beds, electricity to cook dinner and charge my phone, a toilet that flushes, and even a dishwasher. I can walk to the grocery store to buy meat and fresh produce, no hunting or foraging required. (Unless it’s Saturday when the shelves are often cleared out, then all bets are off.) The fact that I have all of these basic needs so adequately covered makes me better off than 70% of the world’s population. Or does it?
As someone who drinks 3-4 liters of water a day, I’ll be the first to admit that having water readily available from my kitchen sink certainly makes life a little easier, but with great advancement in technology comes great responsibility. When things break, we have to fix them or pay someone else to. When something gets old, it has to be replaced, and the more we own, the more replacing we’ll be doing. Whether we realize it or not, to enjoy the basic luxuries we often take for granted, we have to put in effort and give up both our time and money. And while I’m not denying electricity makes my daily life a lot, I mean a whole lot easier, it also creates the opportunity for an abundance of distraction. I’m telling you right now, I could get so much more done every day if I didn’t turn on the TV during my morning cup of tea or feel the need to check my phone every hour to see how many likes my most recent picture got on Instagram.
I am the sort of person who is easily frustrated when things that are supposed to make my life better, don’t. The cable box is out and I’m going to have to call customer service? That’s it, it’s going to be a bad day. The AC is leaking and someone can’t get out to fix it until next Tuesday? The universe is out to get me. When things that are supposed to make my life easier begin feeling more like a burden than a luxury, that’s when I get to wondering, just how much do these things actually improve my life? The only way to get the answer to that question is to go without them and see how you fare. We got the opportunity to do just that while we were in Colorado.
My sister and brother-in-law are friends with a couple who built their own rustic cabin in Cherokee Park, north of Red Feather Lakes. Located at the top of a hill, they have one heck of a view of the surrounding foothills. What they don’t have? Electricity and running water. (Judging by the light hanging from the ceiling in the main room, they may have a generator somewhere they can use for electricity, but for our stay we went without.)
Staying in this cabin is like going back in time. There is no TV, but there are shelves and shelves of paperback books. Where the sink would be in the kitchen, there is a large wash basin beneath the counter. To cook requires patience and experience with a wood-burning stove and oven. If you want a shower, there is a garden hose hooked up to the well. (But you have to pump the water into the hose and let it sit in the sun for a while first because otherwise you’ll get an unpleasant shock when the cold water hits your skin!) To go to the bathroom, there are a couple options, but neither feel particularly natural. (Although, technically, they are about as natural as you can get.) And while the indoor living space consists of only two small chairs, the outdoor space features hammocks and a dining area and benches made of tree trunks surrounding a fire pit because let’s be honest, you don’t come all the way out here to stay inside.
Were I by myself, I would have felt very Henry David Thoreau, but in this small, one-bedroom cabin we managed to sleep five people comfortably – two in the bed upstairs and three on an air mattress and sleeping pad in the main room. (Well, comfortably for me. I was one of the ones in the bed. Ha!) I don’t even know how to put this without it sounding weird, but living in a small space where each room serves more than one purpose and every inch of space has been maximized feels way more satisfying to me than a spacious home full of rooms with names like Office or Dining Room. In other words, this cabin and the way we made use of every part of it left me with an overwhelming sense of contentment. It was pretty much remote-getaway perfection, but it did require us to put in a little extra work. And with the sun as our only light (besides two head-lamps), timing was everything.
Wood needed to be chopped for the fire. Dinner needed to be prepared, cooked, and eaten in enough time to still have enough daylight to wash up the dishes. (Don’t even get me started on how much more difficult it is to wash dishes with no running water in the house.) Everything we normally do with modern conveniences took just a little bit longer out here, but somehow we still ended up with more free time than I ever do back at home. And I’m pretty sure we can attribute that to the fact that with no electricity we were computer, tv, smartphone, and social media free, freeing up plenty of time for other things like hammock naps, listening to music, and photo hunting.
After the sun went down, getting anything productive done, even with a headlamp, became increasingly difficult and so we spent the evening watching the foothills darken and the sky change colors. And once every last bit of light had disappeared, we got to see something we hadn’t seen in ages – the stars.
One thing I’ve noticed since we’ve moved to Singapore is that I don’t watch the sunrise or sunset very often anymore. Part of that has to do with the fact that our apartment windows face north and south and so we never see the giant ball of light that used to remind us to look out the window in our previous homes. But it’s also because I’m often too busy to pause even for the short time it takes to see the sun arrive or depart, and that’s a shame. There is nothing more grounding than witnessing the day begin and end with the sun. And I was never more aware of that than while we were staying here.
But that lack of light? Pretty awesome for things like star-gazing and astrophotography, both of which I know zero things about because the last time I saw the stars like this was probably something like over two years ago. We also got to see a red moon, but since I have no idea how to handle my camera in darkness like this, I have nothing to show for it. But man, would you look at those stars? They always feel so much closer to earth when we’re in the middle of nowhere like this. (By the way, that is a headlamp creating the light in the cabin in that last long-exposure. I swear I’m not faking this whole no-electricity thing. Ha!)
I slept better out here, zipped up tight in a sleeping bag with only my face exposed, than I have in a really long time. And when I woke up in the morning to the smell of breakfast cooking and then got to eat it in the fresh air with the early morning light warming my face, I began to wonder, could I live like this? Like, really live like this, every day? I mean, who doesn’t dream of a simpler life every now and then? But if you were given the opportunity, how long would a life like this stay idyllic before boredom set in? I mean, Thoreau ended up writing a whole essay in Walden about watching ants. I’m not sure what would be worse – watching them or reading about it later. And even though we were without 21st century distractions like phones and social media, the things we found to fill our free time with wouldn’t have been considered any more productive. (But maybe they would have been if this was a more than 24-hour experiment?)
There are things I could get used to living like this. As someone who treats showering pretty much the same as house-cleaning, which is to say I do both as infrequently as I can get away with, I like the idea of living in such a way that no one would expect me to do either very often. And I’d probably sleep a lot better at night without the ability to stay busy up until the minute I’m supposed to be sleeping. But other things would be a little more difficult to comfortably adapt to. Like the whole toilet situation. I spent the whole day here dreadfully thirsty because a) we had a limited quantity of water and b) I was trying to reduce the amount of times I’d need to use the compost toilet. Every time I was afraid some small animal or a poisonous spider was going to be hiding in it, but I was too grossed out to check first. And as much as I like to think I’d be oh-so-happy to rid myself of the burden of social media and the internet, the truth is, I’d probably miss them…at least this blog, anyway. I could just as easily write in a journal, but knowing that someone else can read the things I spend so much time writing makes writing them infinitely more satisfying.
It’s impossible to say what’s better – a life with modern conveniences or one without. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I do think those of us living in the modern world could all use a break from the technology and hectic paces we feel obligated to keep up with all the time. It’s ridiculous to expect so much of ourselves and yet we do. I left our little cabin with a renewed desire to live a little slower and spend more time doing things I don’t need technology for and so far I’ve done a good job of it, but it has only been two weeks. It may only be a matter of time before I get sucked back into my usual patterns, but I sincerely hope not – I’d like to keep my body as rested and my mind as clear as they are now for as long as possible!
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