Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.
Five years ago, almost to the day, my life took a sharp turn down a new path when I hit “Publish” on my first blog post.
To most, that change looks like a dietary shift. From high-protein, I’m-an-athlete-so-I-eat-what-I-want, to vegetarian, to vegan, and most recently to a simple diet of whole, plant-based foods.
Others might see it as a change in my running. From a relentless focus on faster and stronger, training on high school tracks with a stopwatch, heart rate monitor, and GPS device, to a more relaxed goal of running further — first 50K, then 50 miles, then 100 miles. Mostly alone, through the woods.
Or it might look like the path of entrepreneurship: when I started my blog, I was a graduate student in applied math, headed for a stable career in academia. But that blog soon became a business, and just two years after I started, I left grad school to do it full-time. Now much deeper entrenched in the entrepreneurial mindset (and with two more mouths to feed than when I started), I know that working for someone else will likely never again be the plan.
Three major changes … all unforeseeable to me when I hit “Publish.”
But here’s the thing. As big as they all are, none of those changes is the real change.
The real change is the one that underlies the others. The one that began when the fitness blogs I was reading led me to Zen Habits, which led me to Be More With Less, and my eyes were opened to this whole philosophy of living called minimalism — the idea that by having less, one could, well, be more.
Amidst all the activity and change of the past five years, the simplification of my life has been slow but relentless, like drops of water wearing away a stone. And though the philosophy is reflected in my diet, my running, and my business, it’s a topic that’s mostly peripheral to the content I can write about on my blog.
But my diet? What were elaborate and expensive meals have been replaced by simple dishes, very often raw. Many nights, it’s a combination of a grain, a green, and a bean, in one pot. Sometimes curried lentils and rice or homemade naan, or a huge salad with beans and a homemade, nut-based dressing. A raw smoothie each morning of fruit, ground nuts and seeds, and a few leaves of kale. People often wonder how they’d find time to eat a vegan diet … but I find that my version actually saves me time. Not to mention the energy it gives me to be more effective the rest of the day. (And yes, my kids eat this way, too.)
The running? No longer do I wear a GPS, a heart rate monitor, or often even a watch. Instead of fancy, processed sports drinks and gels, I bring along a few fresh dates, sometimes water. Running is often my meditation, though I still love listening to audiobooks when I run. A running purist might scoff at bringing an iPod, but it’s while I’m running (and listening) that I have my greatest business insights and ideas.
And that business? I used to assume “a business” meant stacks of files and shelves of supplies, and that owning one meant being slave to a jam-packed calendar, poring over spreadsheets and reports between endless calls and meetings. But because I had the great fortune of being influenced by minimalism from the outset, my business looks nothing like the stereotype.
It’s remarkable to me that the actual stuff I need to run a business (one that supports my family, at that) takes up less room than my books in grad school ever did. I’ve learned to delegate and to guard my time well enough that most days, I can wake up and ask myself, over a single, hand-brewed cup of coffee, “What do I feel like making today?” And then I can do it.
(I’d like to say I wake up when I want, but that has literally never once happened in the past four years — the kids have other ideas.)
In private, my family has massively reduced our clutter, donating or selling more than half of what we used to own. Free of so many possessions and work ties to home, we picked up and moved to Asheville, North Carolina, a funky, artsy, vegan-friendly city in the mountains, to live simply and fully in a place that fits our lifestyle. We canceled cable TV and donated our microwave and our coffee machine, and I recently got rid of my smartphone. We garden, make as much of our own food as we can, and live as “green” as is practical for us. (Paper towels, no; two cars, yes. It’s a work in progress.)
And all the while, I’ve quietly whittled my list of personal possessions to something approaching one hundred — books are still my weakness. And of course, just 33 items of clothing in any one season.
I’m still far from what I consider truly minimalist. But I’m also far from the way I used to be. And as a result of clearing away the clutter in my life and the administrivia in my business, deciding instead to focus on what matters, I’ve learned more about myself — grown more and discovered more of the authentic “me” — in these five years than ever before.
If there’s a lesson in my story, it’s not to get rid of your stuff. Instead, it’s to hit “Publish.” Start something. It’ll take you somewhere you never intended, probably never even knew existed. And that’s the real reason to do it — to discover what’s out there, so you can discover what’s in you.
Matt Frazier is a vegan ultramarathoner and the author of the blog No Meat Athlete. Last year he drove 11,000 miles across the U.S. to support his first book, No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self.