Decision Fatigue

Photo: National Library of Scotland
Photo: National Library of Scotland

Some might wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of minimizing their wardrobe, simplifying wants, and doing away with the mundane. They might even ask if such notions represent an affront to personal freedom of choice.

Lack of choice, however, isn’t a problem; it’s the abundance of it that is. We’re forced to make so many decisions that we’re failing to cope.

Decision fatigue is the notion that you can only make a finite number of choices well, in any given day. With time, our brains turn to goop, leaving us paralyzed to act, and doing stupid/impulsive things. You can familiarize yourself with decision fatigue in John Tierney’s article, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?

If this principle holds up, we might be wise to look upon our decisions like currency. Given the limited supply, we should use them wisely. Why waste mental energy on matching socks, when we can save it for bigger things? (If you love matching socks, this is an altogether different discussion.)

What few of us like to admit, is that most choices come at the cost of others. Furthermore, little things often become much bigger once collected. It’s like that latte you pick up every day. Even though it’s only $4, by year’s end, that stacks up to around $1,500 of milk, water, and burnt beans. We’re awfully quick to dismiss small decisions as being inconsequential; looking upon them in their entirety can change this.

Every seemingly insignificant decision during your day, adds up. Meanwhile, our lives are increasingly about making one small decision after another: Read this post or the next? Save a dollar, or pick the environmentally-friendly option? Reply to the email or respond by phone? Upgrade the car, or see if it can go for another year? Deal with task, or put off until later? Tweet or post on Facebook? Order the low-fat option or indulge?

This is the stuff that results in us realizing that it’s 5:00… and we still haven’t tackled the thing we intended to get to when we arrived.

For some of us, this isn’t acceptable. We want to make things happen during our time at the office. We aren’t in love with the torrent of email that hits us. We also don’t particularly like the notion of life rushing past while we’re stuck scrambling in one spot.

As a young man, I spent time thinking about things I no longer believe important. Perhaps that’s just how life unfolds. Being with my family is incredibly important to me; meanwhile, running a business takes a lot of time, as does my interest in making things. This leaves few spare moments. As such, I want to save every moment I can for doing things I like. This requires me to make certain decisions now, in order to limit the need to make more choices later.

Sure, some will think it mad to wear only one thing. Maybe they’re right. A few of us will see it as a reasonable concession for gaining more control of our days. We’ll simplify routine tasks. We’ll find ways to silence distractions. A lucky few of us might even bow out and do something a little less perpetually frenetic.

Of course, these are personal decisions. They are also ones you should make deliberately.

Fuck ’em

Image: Eulalie Osgood Grover, from “Kittens and cats; a book of tales” (1911)
Image: Eulalie Osgood Grover, from “Kittens and cats; a book of tales” (1911)

Over the course of your life, folks are going to tell you what to do… over and over again. Color within the lines; avoid risk; be a good boy scout.

Some of this will be well intentioned; many think you’ll fare better if you don’t rock the boat. Others are ass-faces who find reassurance in knowing that they’re not the only ones who chose the safe path.

The plan goes like this: study hard, get good grades, attend a respected university, find a decent job, work your way up the ladder, procreate (twice), and upgrade your home every 5 – 10 years. All of which are fine, but this is just one course amongst many.

What if there’s another way?

What if you dropped out of school and walked across the country? What if you decided grades were sort of silly, and instead read all the interesting things you could find? What if you volunteered some time in a developing country and met someone who’d never spent a moment thinking about Chandler and Monica? What if you tasted every taste, saw every sight, faced the things that frightened you, and got a couple of scuffs along the way?

You have one life. Live it as you will, but perhaps take a moment to consider an alternative path. There is a wide chasm between the ways you could pass through existence and the lame-ass lives most choose. Besides, should you fail, you’ll at least have a couple of good stories to tell.

Do whatever you want. I’m not here to prescribe life decisions. At the same time, I feel it’s worth reminding you that within 100 years you, and everyone you love, will be gone. All the shit you’re stressing out about will be long forgotten.

The swarm of convention is a tsunami that absorbs all in its way. You are powerless against it. (Until you decide you are not.)

Seeking Contrast

Photo: University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections
Photo: University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections

You’ve hiked for 10 hours. It’s hot, you’re dripping with sweat, and you taste salt on your lips. It isn’t fun any longer. Actually, it hasn’t been for a while. Your backpack is grinding into the base of your neck, there are blisters on your feet, and your water is tepid and running low. It doesn’t matter, though. There are five miles left, and no one’s carrying you home.

Upon finally reaching the base of the mountain, you release a small whimper of relief. At a small creek, you wash off your boots and trade them for a (suddenly very light seeming) pair of runners. Limping your way to the truck, you barrel in with your friends. It’s strange to simultaneously feel both so weary and alive. It was an exhausting day, but you saw breathtaking country, connected with great friends, and now have a fine reason to kick back.

After 45 minutes in transit, you roll up to a pub. A couple of pitchers are ordered, and that first sip of beer is mahtava (Finnish for magnificent, but somehow more so). The long wait for nourishment comes to an end as a cavalcade of plates heaping with burgers and fries arrive. You devour everything in sight, and are taken aback by how good that burger tasted… perhaps better than any before it.

Contrast is to thank for this. It expands the available spectrum of emotion and experience, adding fidelity to our lives. Sadly, it’s under attack.

Our modern society provides easy, and persistent, access to delightful indulgences, but this is contradictory to how indulgence works. While you can hole up in a pub and eat a burger every day, it just won’t taste as good as it did when you were really tired and hungry.

In order to feel anything, we have to seek out—and even create our own—contrast. Doing so isn’t difficult, but it does require one to make certain choices. It’s also anathema to a population that insists upon being comfortable at all times.

Want to gain contrast? Perhaps take a month off, from television. The first few days will be an immense drag; you won’t know what to do with your evenings. Should you stick with it, you’ll find yourself thinking about it less each day. By the end of your “telexile,” you’ll turn that machine on more consciously. Odds are, you’ll mark the occasion with a really good program/film, a little popcorn, and a nice glass of wine. (A dramatically different experience from zoning out daily to a stream of reality TV.)

Better than that, though, you might find that the things you do during your down-time also become enjoyable. Maybe you’ll now have the time to catch up on some reading, fix that broken kitchen faucet, get a little extra sleep, or treat the Kama Sutra like an instruction manual for the month’s evening pursuits.

In order to fully experience things, you need contrast.

An Artist’s Journey Into the Craft and History of the Tattoo

“Sure, I often have lunch/wine at the On Loc around 2:30 PM.” This is the response I get to my email with the subject line: “Want to talk about the Valley of the Headhunters with me?” (For the record, we spend very little of our lunch on that topic.)

Photography Advice at the Tattoo Shop

This is the second time I’ve met Thomas Lockhart. The first is when I’m 18, and in art school. I want to document what goes on in a tattoo shop, and find West Coast Tattoo in the Yellow Pages. I walk in sheepishly with a few rolls of film, my crackling post-pubescent voice, and a dreadful mullet. I then do my best to take a few photos without upsetting anyone—I’m a scrawny kid next to these hardcore seeming dudes, and I really don’t want to piss anyone off.

I wrap up quickly and thank Thomas for his time. He looks up from his work, perplexed. “That’s it? Aren’t you going to bracket your shots? At least I did that when I was in school.” This moment has stuck with me for a long time. It’s funny, and saps the tension I’m feeling, from the air. Over the following years, I often wonder what has become of this fellow.

For most of my life, I’ve felt like a fraud. There’s never been a time when I believed I understood enough to get past the starting line; moreover, I’ve always imagined myself to be the human embodiment of the word, vanilla. While I’ve aspired to live a bold, adventurous life, I’ve mostly found myself smack dab in the mainstream. My aspirations and actions are disconnected.

This may be why I’m anxious in meeting Thomas Lockhart. I’m bad with people—particularly those I admire. And Thomas is one of these. To me, he seems like an original: he does his own thing, free of the constraints most of us put on ourselves. He’s touched foot on every corner of the planet, hobnobs with local glitterati (even if he doesn’t look the part), and seems to be moving to his own personal rhythm.

Psychology Major; Aviator; Tattoo Artist

My day has turned into a bit of a shitstorm, which leaves me rushing to catch a cab in order to make it across town. Somehow it works out, and I arrive at the restaurant right on time. This is when I come to realize just how unprepared I am. You see, writing isn’t my day job, but rather a bit of a hobby. Real work needed to take priority over the past week, and I’m not caught up on my research for today. Worse yet, I realize that I have left my note pad at the office. Thankfully, I have a record function on my smartphone. I just hope my subject isn’t too irritated at how unprofessionally I’m treating this whole thing.

I watch Lockhart approach the restaurant, but he fails to make his way to the table. After a few moments of waiting, I walk over to find him examining the menu on the wall. He has no idea who I am, so, I explain that we had an interview planned for today. He’s caught off guard, having forgotten about our meeting entirely, but agrees to sit down and talk.


Thomas grows up in Pender Harbour, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. At six years old, he’s exposed to religion for the first time. His mother, a school-teacher, thinks Sunday School is a good idea, so, she sends him to the local tabernacle. This prompts him to ask bigger questions of her, like: where do we come from? She presents notions of the big bang theory, and evolution, which he determines are much more plausible than what he hears from the minister across the street. Religion becomes a central theme in our discussion. It’s roots, impacts, and sometimes apparent lunacy.

Upon his parents’ divorce, he moves to Saskatoon with his mother. This is before making his way across the country to study art and psychology at Ottawa’s Carleton University. He then travels to Argentina, training at the Aviation Academy. This vocation, however, comes at odds with his outward appearance. Those hiring pilots aren’t that thrilled with the notion of employing those with ink under their skin, long hair, and piercings.

Worried that this can only lead to a life that, as Lockhart describes it, will be a “holding pattern,” he makes a rapid exit, seeking something a little more “congenial.” A 26-year-old Lockhart attends a convention, put on by renowned tattoo artist Dave Yurkew, and something clicks. “Up at the crack of noon, hustling women, meeting interesting people, and downing a beer or two along the way seemed a much more civilized way to live my life,” he explains.

“So, You’re Making Documentaries?”

I’m not an interviewer and this becomes apparent painfully quickly. Thomas isn’t really that sure what Deliberatism is about, and I find myself incapable of articulating our purpose accurately—or, for that matter, coherently. (For a moment, he confuses me for a documentarian.) Little of this seems to matter much, though, as he seems far more interested in helping me find a place to travel to, than telling his story.

“Young kids? You need to go to Vietnam! Great food… It’s a fusion of Chinese, and crepes, and sauces! You’d have fun there, and it’s cheap. Very progressive.” He talks about how affordable hotels are, and the beautiful conservation areas there. I then mention that someone I once worked with had written glowingly about her travels in Bali. He becomes alive, nearly poking me in the eye with his finger, out of pure exuberance, “That’s it—Bali! Yes. It’s a jewel—a jewel!”


Eventually, he seems to understand what our project is about, but I don’t know that he completely can. I want to quote Thoreau’s comment about men leading “lives of quiet desperation,” which I’m sure he’ll recognize, but I doubt he’ll properly understand. I don’t think he’s worried about retirement, what his neighbors are doing, or, whether his shoes and belt match. These things that so many mainstreamers fret about, seem a million miles from his world.

We end up on a tangent, followed by another, and yet another; when he pauses for a moment and asks me what we were talking about. This is what a conversation with Thomas is like: we bounce from tales a biker pulling teeth from a corpse, to the ethics of vegetarianism, to how he broke his back in the mountains… all as though these topics are no big deal. I get the feeling that Thomas believes these are the same things others chat about over Sunday brunch.

A Love Affair with Tattoos

“Back then, there was no training,” Lockhart explains about the early days of tattooing in Vancouver. He notes that it was so hard to get access to machines that most people would just make their own. “I was using guitar strings and doorbell buzzers; I didn’t know what the fuck was going on.” He eventually gets access to a proper machine. (You can now buy these online for as little as $10.)

Even a little research into the world of tattoos shows just how much things have changed over the past decades. One of the first tattoo conventions, for example, was initially looked upon as a looming disaster. Michael Yurkew (son of the renowned Dave Yurkew) recounts the worry that attendees, “might kill each other if they’re all in the same room.” Artists, at the time, were more secretive about their work, than those we now see on reality television.


Lockhart goes on to explain that tattooing in Vancouver essentially started in the 1890s. He personally learns this through the help of Lyle Tuttle, who he considers to be the grandfather of present day tattooing. Tuttle sends Lockhart a card from a chest full of artifacts, referencing a tattooist named Professor George Johnson. (At the time, tattoo artists use prefixes like “Doc” and “Professor” to connote a kind of legitimacy—which sometimes wasn’t warranted.) It takes him years, but he follows this link to Japan, through to Vancouver, and eventually down to New York. He starts to connect the different artists of the time, even learning that the first electric tattoo gun in Vancouver was in use in the late 1800s.

The stories weave in and out, and I have a hard time keeping up. The names he mentions are mostly foreign to me, as I don’t know anything about the art form. (This might change when Thomas publishes the book he’s completing on this topic.) His opinions and stories are numerous. Some bum him out, while others quickly lead to boisterous laughter.

He talks about how a group of artists would design work and then ship the associated acetate to their colleagues. These were intended as an act of goodwill, amongst friends. They would then share credit, noting both who designed the piece and who inked it. Lockhart seems disappointed by Ed Hardy. He explains that Ed put these shared images on t-shirts and cashed in on them with little mention of the others’ involvement.

This doesn’t affect his admiration for Hardy, who inked part of Thomas’ body, though. He acknowledges that he’s a great talent, recounting that Hardy can simply start creating, without a rigid plan, and masterfully produce beautiful art. He notes that while many young artists think they can mimic this process, few can make it happen—because, “they want to be Ed Hardy, but they’re not Ed Hardy.”

Lockhart recounts a story, of how Hardy put him in touch with fellow artist Zeke Owen. In it, Thomas travels to North Carolina by bus connect with him, only to find himself in the middle of nowhere—a “cultural wasteland.” Marines roll in on weekends flush with cash, but with little to do. Many elect to watch strippers, frequent prostitutes, and get tattoos. In spite of how dreary it may seem, Thomas quickly learns how profitable this setup can be. Zeke opens his shop at 4:00 in the afternoon and they tattoo until 2:00 in the morning. “And that’s where I learned to make money,” Thomas explains.

Zeke, however, had learned this lesson for himself in Hawaii, back in 1961. Recently fired from his job, he hears of an opportunity with Sailor Jerry (Norman Keith Collins). He promptly buys some Hawaiian shirts, packs his suitcase, and makes his way to the islands. Little does he know what he’ll find: Jerry’s shop is down on the skids. There’s puke on the street and junkies shooting up. He’s depressed, and ready to go home, but chooses to sit through a shift. For the rest of the day the two pound out images of tiny bulldogs with hats on. By the end of it, he’s made $1,700, and Sailor Jerry is up $5,000. After that, it doesn’t seem so bad.

Seeking Understanding of the Craft

As we enter his shop (a few blocks away) Lockhart’s chihuahua, Snook, races across the room to greet us. Aside from this one small exception, the shop looks exactly like it should. It’s clean and utilitarian, with a mixture of tattoo art, tools, and ephemera blanketing every wall. This isn’t by accident, or without due consideration. While others have taken different approaches, Lockhart feels this is what a tattoo shop is supposed to be—and that’s what he wants to deliver to visitors.

The flash (letter sized sheets of paper, with tattoo designs printed on them) on the walls is highly varied. Some sheets date back over 100 years. It’s easy to get lost in these walls, purely from a visual appreciation standpoint—none-to-mention what they say about those who commit to these forms for the rest of their lives. The older artwork is beautiful and considered, whereas the newer ones sometimes feel more like stickers or badges. While the former are clearly representative of an art form, the latter remind me that this is also very much a business.


Nevertheless, Lockhart seems to be a purist. He won’t take on a job that requires him to tattoo gang symbols or names of lovers. He campaigns to put an end to harmful toxins found in certain tattooing inks, and talks disparagingly about the poor quality of some low-cost offshore materials that are making their way into the marketplace. He’s equally concerned about how some shops are simply fronts for illicit activities, and how this damages the craft.

Lockhart’s interest in the tattoo may have been sparked at Yurkew’s convention, but his quest to understand it is longer and takes him further afar. He makes, what he refers to as, pilgrimages to artists in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He’s riveted by how they are defining their own style, while drawing upon the Japanese methods introduced to the west by Sailor Jerry. He learns a little something from these artists and, along the way, a couple of them start inking what will eventually become his full body tattoo.

He travels to Yokohama, Japan, where he meets Yoshito Nakano (later known as Horiyoshi III). When presented with the offer, this up and coming artist sees an opportunity in outfitting Lockhart with a kimono tattoo—hand tapped in the traditional fashion with a stick, and up to 40 needles attached. He knows this work will travel back to the west with his subject, and understands what this may represent for his reputation. During that long process, Thomas learns even more about the craft, and the two become friends.

This, however, just scratches the surface of his travels. Wherever he can learn more about his craft, he goes. In a respect, it’s as though tattooing is a doorway, which leads him to explore the world. When prompted, he rattles off a long lists of places he’s been, “Japan, South Seas, Europe, South America, Africa, Canary Islands, the States, New Zealand…” he shrugs his shoulders and concludes, “that’s about it.” (As the conversation continues, I realize that this only scratches the surface.)

A Passage Into the Valley of the Headhunters

In 1979, after scratching in various locals for 2 or 3 years, he starts a shop on Davie Street. He runs it in that same spot for nearly 30 years. It’s one of the busier streets in the area, and one that undergoes substantial gentrification in the 1990s. Eventually, he’ll trade this location for one closer to Commercial Drive, where rents are more affordable, and the parking isn’t such a nuisance for his customers.

While still in his Davie Street shop, he’s met by producer/writer Vince Hemingson, who harbors a growing fascination with tattoos. Thomas soon draws him into discussions on tattoo history, largely concentrated on those practicing in remote parts of Borneo. He talks about the significance of the tattoos of the Iban, whose markings were long treated as both a means of gaining strength and support from the spirit world—alongside serving a certain functional purpose in attracting potential mates. Due to Western influence, however, this artwork and history may soon fade completely, becoming lost to future generations of Iban.

Their shared fascination, coupled with a desire to tell this story, gets them thinking about creating a documentary concentrated on the topic. They head out, trying to drum up interest, soon finding a partner in National Geographic. With a small budget in hand, they make their way down the Skrang River (once known as the River of Death) to document these vanishing tattoo practices, and better understand the meaning of these tattoos to their people.

For three weeks, they bear blistering heat and nearly 100 per cent humidity, while sleeping on wooden floors, in longhouses shared by up to 120 people. This, of course, is the tough part. The rewards come in the hospitality of the Iban people, their willingness to share stories and discuss the relevance of their body art, and the opportunity to meet a couple of elders—whose insights are not, for much longer, of this world. They learn how for the Iban, the skull is seen to contain one’s soul, and how warriors would collect them to gain the strength of many. They also uncover that in battle, tattoos were believed to serve as armor against even the machine gun fire of modernized armies. You can view the first part of the documentary here:

While I’m fascinated by what they’re able to see and take in, the practicalities of their travel seems overwhelming to me. On this particular trip, they need to make their way down gnarly rivers, whose turbid water camouflages stones that threaten to disembowel their boats and toss them into fast-moving currents—containing rather threatening looking alligators. (On other journeys, like one on the Amazon, he finds a monkey hand floating in his soup.) Personally, I don’t have the guts to go to these places. That, however, doesn’t change how fun it is to listen to his stories.

On the Road in Your 50s

In spite of his adventurous spirit, Lockhart isn’t a young man. When we first met, twenty years ago, he seemed a little harder, perhaps even standoffish. I was intimidated by him then, and was expecting to be so today. Maybe I’m just older and reading him differently, but he now seems more open—even chatty. He works through a bowl of wonton soup, and a few glasses of wine. Even though I’m the one who asked for his time today, he insists upon buying my lunch, waving his hand dismissively, “put away your little credit card.” He then teases our waitress who seems to know him well. I’m left with the impression that he has lunch here every day.


He once maintained a boat in False Creek that served as an apartment of sorts for traveling artists who would work in his studio. His interest in working with others has waned, though, and he now prefers to practice his craft on his own. Most of his projects are larger in scale, and only a few of his customers come to him off the street as casual walk-ins.

Still keen to travel, he acknowledges that it’s different for him than it once was. For the past decade, he’s become more accustomed to being in the company of his wife, Sharon, who he describes as very easy to get along with. His last trip alone was to Jordan and Israel; it was a dismal experience. He felt very little connection with fellow travelers, particularly because most on such trips are in their late teens to early thirties. Hostels, he acknowledges, are less comfortable as one grows older, and many staying in such places find his snoring bothersome. This hasn’t minimized his deep-seated wanderlust, but it does seem that few others in his age-bracket are quite as prepared for the kind of exploration he enjoys.

Tomorrow, I’ll head back to my agency, where my day will pass in a flurry of email, meetings, and scheduling conflicts. Thomas, on the other hand, will return to his tranquil shop, where one of his 30, or so, regulars will come back to him to continue working on the sleeves and backs he’s known for (these are long-term commitments, often lasting around 20 years).

Come January, I’ll be scrambling to drum up work, or finish projects that are running behind; he’ll be at his little place in the Dominican, or traveling to Turkey—a place he desperately wants to explore.

Interesting People Always Seem Interested

What strikes me most, throughout our discussion, is how truly situated Lockhart seems to be in this world. He spends a few days a week working on the tree farm his grandfather started cultivating in the 1940s. He’s built his own plane. He understands the differences between Sunnis and Shiites; does work for schools in developing countries; is adept in the dynamics of Vancouver politics… and he’s not averse to calling out some of them for things he disagrees with. (He admits that while he enjoys drinking with them, few appreciate such prodding.)


Nevertheless, there he is: the real deal. Quintessentially curious, often tangential, and seemingly unafraid of the constraints that people like me tend to feel blanketed in. Our conversation leaves me feeling like a beginner: provincial and ignorant of the bigger world that surrounds me. I can talk up a storm about integrating social media in a campaign, or the means of aligning brands, but this largely feels like subterfuge: modern day constructs with little connection to anything real.

I explain that I’m unclear on exactly what I’m going to pull out of our talk. It went all over the place, and I don’t know how to properly convey his story. He gives me a fist bump and tells me that I should take whatever I’d like from the meeting, and write what I want. “You’ve led quite a life,” I note, as we part ways. There’s a momentary pause, before he responds, “Hey—it isn’t over, yet.”

To learn more about the history of tattooing, visit Lockhart’s the Tattoo Museum; to meet the man himself, and perhaps get inked, visit West Coast Tattoo.

The Minimal Baby

Image courtesy of Miami University Libraries - Digital Collections
Image courtesy of Miami University Libraries – Digital Collections

In the event that you and your S.O. are spending time in the bedroom making babies, deliberately or incidentally, the following numbers might prove useful: The baby goods industry is apparently worth around $30 billion, and the cost of a raising a child to 21 is reported to be over $300,000. Scary, huh?

Our eldest son is now five years old, and our youngest is three. We’d like to try for another child, but it isn’t in the cards. As such, I’m tasked with the hateful job of divesting our remaining baby things. This started with Craigslist, which is comprised of people who email questions, book appointments, and then—quite tragically—spontaneously combust on their way over. It is ending with us simply donating these things to those in need.

As I purge all of this stuff, I realize just how little of it was ever necessary. Actually, almost none of it was.

Sure, you’ll need receiving blankets (read: cheap rags) to wipe up puke. Diapers are also a nice idea, unless you’re truly the adventurous type. A car seat is a good call, if you’d like said baby to maintain his/her current configuration. From there, though, most of the rest is a wash.

A fancy diaper bag with many useful pockets? Nonsense! Any bag or backpack will do. A crib? Unnecessary. Particularly once you realize that your baby is going to sleep with you, most of the time. Besides, a portable playpen (used price $25) will serve the same purpose, and be useful when traveling. Change table? Use the floor. “Genius” baby products? Not that important. My kid ain’t Einstein, and yours won’t be either. Sadly, no toy will change this.

Next up, clothing: don’t buy any. You’ll be drowning in it, in no time. Toys? Same deal. Family and friends will bombard you with this stuff, and more of it will go unused than you can imagine. While it sickens me to say so, we’ve come across some such things in our house that never even made it out of their packaging.

As for strollers, you’ll end up with a few at different times. I hated this idea when we started out, but it’s unavoidable. You’ll begin with a basinet model, convert it to the upright setting, and then find yourself buying an umbrella stroller. (This will be the cheapest one, and you’ll use it the most.) With the arrival of baby #2, you’ll once again be in the market; this time for a two-seater.

My suggestion for strollers: buy used, and go cheap. All the conveniences touted are overrated, and pre-owned ones are typically in great condition. Plus, it’s hard to not look like a douchebag when you’re pushing around a $1,000 Bugaboo.

Now, for the good part. Perhaps you’ve heard whispers about the Great Baby-Stuff Exchange. Well, these rumors are all true: a shadowy, underground market comprised of completely free baby goods!

You see, although you might not currently know many people with kids, this will all soon change. Once it happens, you’ll be forced to endure all kinds of mind-numbing blabber about lack of sleep, breastfeeding problems, and some Ferber dude. The upside? They’ll also be trading bags and boxes filled with things their kids have outgrown. You too can take part in all of this wonder, getting your hands on almost new stuff, at no cost, for as long as you need it! (You’ll eventually find yourself happier to see it go, than come.)

Ask most expectant parents how they’re doing, and they almost unanimously respond, “We’re kind of busy, getting the house ready.” These people are fools… hear me, fools! Sit back, relax, and collect some common sense. All the crap you’re being told to buy won’t make you an even marginally better parent, and there’s no real way to prepare for the changes ahead.

So, skip the prescribed consumption and do something important. By this I mean spending your last pre-child days indulging at restaurants and taking in as many movies as you can. You won’t be able to do this again, for a good, long while.

Forget Self-Improvement

Photo: Walter Miller, courtesy of The Library of Congress
Photo: Walter Miller, courtesy of The Library of Congress

Ever wonder how some people accomplish so much? They run marathons, write novels, start companies… without making it seem like a big deal?

Well, it is a big deal. And in spite of how effortless these accomplishments may appear, people work harder than you likely realize to make these things happen. There is, however, one thing they know—at least in practice—that you don’t.

Most of us want to finish the race, but see running as a chore. A few dream about being great authors, but find the writing itself to be slow and difficult. Some of us learn all we can about starting a company, only to hit a wall when it comes time to get down to work.

Self-help books and workshops arm us with ways to trick ourselves into doing things we perhaps should, but generally don’t want, to do. I ask whether this lack of will might actually be the universe trying to tell us something?

Maybe you aren’t supposed to bother with the tedious stuff. Perhaps the reason you haven’t done it yet, is that you weren’t meant to. Might achievement, as a goal unto itself, be pointless? Could this need to have done something notable, simply be greed in a more socially-acceptable form?

More than all of the rest, though: What if the missing part of the puzzle is not a lack of willpower, but instead a lack of love?

The runner discovers tranquility on the road, forgetting the pain. The writer gives in to the joy of playing with words, moving past the aggravation. The entrepreneur finds purpose in making something, and stops noticing the long days.

You can spend your life fretting about how healthy, interesting, or successful you are. In fact, a whole industry depends upon this, and is eager to help you make plans to change.

On the other hand, you might consider simply finding what you love, and letting the rest take care of itself.

Why I’m Giving Up on Facebook (Sort of)

Image: National Library of Medicine
Image: National Library of Medicine

30 seconds ago, I held that iOS Facebook icon until it started trembling in fear. (Really, it did exactly this… I swear!) A nanosecond later, I have pressed that small black X in the corner. I soon do the same to its sibling to the left, Twitter. Later today I will put a link to this post on both sites, just so my folks aren’t left with the idea that I was hit by a bus, or mangled in some kind of gnarly cheese grater incident.

While I often bemoan the tedious nature of sites like Facebook, I am, for the most part, full of crap. I enjoy these services. More accurately: I adore them. While I’m not sharp enough to say funny things in real life, Facebook affords me adequate time to think about quips, before posting them. Sometimes, I can pull off “clever” pretty darned well; and when I do, it’s a bloody delight.

My problem is that I like Facebook and Twitter a little too much. I adore the little pellets of affirmation they dispense, be they in the form of likes, comments, or cheeky rebukes. I’m somehow happier when I stir up a little friendly banter, and almost disappointed when my sub 140 character wisecracks don’t warrant a single re-tweet. When my follower/friend count goes down, I even fret that I may have somehow, unwittingly, offended someone.

You may wonder if I’m being facetious; I shamefully admit that nothing could be further from the truth.

It gets worse than the garden variety social media adulation, though. Toss in Google Real Time Analytics, and folks like me are fucked beyond any conceivable explanation. For those unfamiliar with the service, Real Time provides a running play-by-play of every visitor coming and going to posts like this. Those smarty-pants Googsters even go so far as to color-code the experience, with a halo around the visitor count as it shrinks/expands. (Green halo, good; red halo, bad.)

I know what you’re thinking, and, yes, I am watching you. And I’m awfully grateful that you haven’t left yet. Stick around… Please… I don’t know what I’ll do if you go. Honestly, it could be bad.

As one might imagine, all of this becomes rather time consuming. Between trying to think of smart things to say; using my hunt-and-peck method to type them out; realizing that my grammar is “whack” and in need of adjustment; and then scratching my head to come up with sufficiently snarky/glib/playful retorts. Oh, it can all prove quite a commitment.

Worse yet, I’ve found myself in the middle of some funny, personal, even inspiring moments thinking, “this would make a great tweet.” It’s at these times that I wonder just where it all went so wrong. Trading the best moments in life for a digital “thumbs-up” seems like the very description of lunacy.

Perhaps all of this is simply indicative of us evolving as a species. Maybe we’ve become increasingly immune to the puny addictions of generations past… like alcohol, sex, and heroin. (Of these three, I’ve tried two, and could quite readily teeter over to the addiction side in both instances.) Regardless, I am an addict. I crave those likes, get a rush from online tit-for-tat, and find myself hoping for validation from those photos of dinner I just uploaded. Yes, I’ve hit rock-bottom.

There may be no twelve-step program for my particular affliction, therefore, I must leave. Well, sort of. I’m not moving my things out of my Facebook flat or my Twitter pied-à-terre. I just won’t be showing up as much any more. I’m not so self-deluding to think I’ll leave it forever; in fact, I might not even make it a week.

I’m not approaching this in a dogmatic fashion. I don’t have an axe to grind, bone to pick, nor protest I wish to attend. In fact, it’s not like I intend to avoid the site completely. It’s just that I want it to become an occasional visit, for fun, instead of something that’s stitched into every part of my day. Perhaps more like porn, which—at least in my case—knows its place.

I like social media and I think it’s useful. I like doing things more, though. My hope is that in not posting status updates three times a day, I might take in more of what’s actually going on around me. (You know; in the non-digital sense.)

Insider Tips on How You Can Climb the “Other” Everest

The following is a guest post, courtesy of Mike Foster.

In 2006, I travelled to Tanzania as part of a month-long expedition. During this time, I successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro; here is a first-hand account of what every traveller should know before attempting to do the same.

“Pole-pole” (pronounced pol-eh pol-eh)

If you spend any time in Western, or really any part of Africa, you’ll hear this phrase. In Swahili, it means “slowly, slowly,” and over there, it’s not just a saying but a way of life. You might also have heard of “Africa Time”—the unfortunate consequence of the pole-pole attitude is that no one is in a hurry to do anything, so if you’re a clock watcher, you’re going to find yourself frequently disappointed. When it comes to Kilimanjaro (also referred to as Kili’), however, nothing could be more important.

Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly outdoorsy, you still have an excellent chance of completing the whole 5,895m (which is why it has become an incredibly popular tourist attraction over the past decade). But, if you don’t do it correctly, your chances of achieving this diminish to almost nothing very quickly indeed. What do I mean by “correctly”? This is where pole-pole comes in.

Take the Long Route Up

The longer you take to summit, the greater the chance you have of acclimatizing to the altitude and actually reaching the top. The altitude, not your physical endurance, is what will stop you from summiting—so, unless you plan on spending a lot of time in an oxygen deprived chamber before you go, I suggest that you don’t attempt to climb the whole mountain in a couple of days.

Rock statues left along the Machame route
Rock statues left along the Machame route

I took the Machame route, which offers a decent hike while allowing you to practice the old mountaineering mantra, “climb high, sleep low”. It takes 5 days to reach the final camp, after which you summit and descend in 2 more days. This slow ascent acclimatizes you to the altitude, so don’t be disheartened when you only gain 20m of elevation during a 4-hour hike from Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp; in fact, you’ll have actually ascended another 1,000m in that time—you’ll just come down about 980m to sleep.

Each day consists of about 4 – 5 hours hiking (with the exception of summit night), so there is no reason to push yourself to exhaustion. As you get higher and the air gets thinner, this becomes more and more critical. Bear in mind, from Day 2 you are 3,000m above sea level, and stay well above it until Day 6 (3,000m is the altitude at which most people start to get breathless from just standing upright). Given these physical difficulties, you may be wondering how you’re going to carry a week’s worth of clothes, food, and equipment along with you.

What to take?

Before I left England for Tanzania, I went on a huge shopping spree to stock up on all of the essentials for a month in the developing world, as well as anything I thought I would need for my attempt to conquer the world’s highest free-standing mountain. My priority, at the time, was to get an all-singing, all-dancing backpack in which to store all of my new toys. Whilst my 75 litre pack has served me well (and still does to this day), and it did come with me up Kili’, I was not carrying it.

Getting closer to the summit
Getting closer to the summit

The standard practice is for a group to go with a guide who walks with you during the day, keeps pace, and offers interesting information about the mountain. Meanwhile, a group of porters carry the majority of the bags (I spotted one carrying three 75 litre packs on his own in an improvised sack slung over his head), and perform each leg of the journey at blistering speed. So, when you arrive at the next camp, not only are your things already there, but your tent is pitched, fresh water is laid at the entrance, and your dinner is on the stove. Some porters even wait until you’ve left the camp to pack up your tent, then overtake you on the hike and set it up again before you arrive at the next one. There are some items, however, which are absolutely crucial to have with you at all times:

1. Day sack; During the hike, you’ll need a small, comfortable bag to carry your lunch, any personal belongings you may want (like your camera and valuables; try to be minimalist with what you carry) and most importantly: water.

2. Water bottle; Staying hydrated is absolutely imperative at altitude. You are going to dehydrate a lot quicker because of the low humidity of the air you’ll be breathing. Carrying 1.5 litres of water with you to last the day’s hike would not be at all excessive. From personal experience, I would also suggest getting some sort of insulation to cover your water bottle, as both of mine froze solid on summit night, when I needed them most.

3. Down jacket, or variation of; A down jacket has the advantage of being extremely warm whilst lightweight. It also packs up smaller than a regular jacket, which makes it ideal for trekking (but a good one will set you back a few pennies). Bear in mind that the mountain is in Africa, so when you set off you’re going to be hot. The temperature drops drastically above 4,000m, however, and the trademark white cap of Kili’ is a glacier. I can attest to the coldness at the summit, having stupidly taken off my gloves while fumbling with my water bottle, which resulted in getting frost-nip (first-degree frost bite) in 7 of my fingers.

4. Layers of clothes; I highly recommend that you pack an undershirt, light shirt, light fleece, heavy fleece, and thick jacket. That way, you can build up and strip down as you need to throughout the day. You may also want to consider indulging in a few luxuries; you’ll have a reasonable amount of time to spare following your hikes and before dinner, so it’s nice to have a book or some playing cards to keep you entertained (anything that doesn’t run on electricity is preferable).

Taking a moment to enjoy the setting
Taking a moment to enjoy the setting

Summit Night

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll be relieved to know that soon you’ll be able to wash yourself with running water again, and use a lavatory that isn’t known as a “long-drop”—for those of you that don’t know what that means, I’m sure you can make an educated guess.

If you take the same route I did, along the Machame route, you’ll end up at Barafu, the final point with enough flat ground to establish a camp. Over 1,100m lower than the peak, there is a considerable chunk of the mountain left to climb, which you’ll want to do before the sun comes up (not least because the sunrise is absolutely stunning from your elevated vantage point).

An incredible view was worth the physical effort
An incredible view was worth the physical effort

As for my own experience of finally summiting Kili’, I was awoken at midnight, and our group assembled to begin the 7 hour final leg to Uhuru Peak. At this point, the slopes are relatively steep—for myself, they felt impossibly so as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) began to settle in. AMS affects everyone differently, and some people not at all. As we pushed on further, two members of my group were physically ill—one was actually sent back to camp after it was determined that he shouldn’t continue. In the meantime, my own AMS continued to intensify—my body felt like it was made of lead, and my lungs felt useless as they sucked away at the freezing air in a fruitless attempt to find oxygen.

At one point, I genuinely considered turning back. Luckily, I thought to ask our guide, who had an altimeter, how much further we had to go; he notified me that there was only 100m of elevation to the summit. It was at this point I had to dig deep, but there was no way I’d climbed for 6 days just to turn around within touching distance of the summit. So, after another hour and a half that involved a lot of stopping, a couple moments on the verge of losing consciousness, and a significant amount of propping up from our guide, I made it to Uhuru peak. It is genuinely one of the most stunning views I have ever experienced, and it pains me to reminisce about it now, because all I could think about at the time was getting down. Which you do rapidly; I really did lose consciousness at one point, so it was probably for the best.

The environment changed radically, from the intense African heat at the base, to freezing temperatures towards the summit
The environment changed radically, from the intense African heat at the base, to freezing temperatures towards the summit

For anyone who is put off by my recollection, I do not mean to deter you. In fact, my friend who suffers from asthma was extremely worried about the altitude, but completed the entire climb without any problems. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is difficult but achievable, and an indescribable reward awaits you at the top.

Imagine All of Your Worldly Possessions… in a Dumpster

If there’s one thing we’ve learned incredibly well over the past century, it’s to love stuff. We ogle large screen televisions, establish expansive collections of fetishised objects, and treat iPhone releases like the second coming of Christ. It’s a damning indictment of an “evolved” society that has the capability to see, do, help, and give so much, but instead puts its attention on shiny new things.

I’m not immune to this; in fact, I’m a master of cognitive dissonance, having crafted countless arguments and rationalizations for what I purchase. “It’s an investment;” “I’ll do more for my health, as a result of this thing;” “It will be good for our kids.” Oh yeah, I’ve used every one of ‘em, and am currently in the process of generating more—in spite of being part of a blog that encourages simpler, more sustainable, living.

Some days, though, a massive invisible crowbar from the sky appears, and forces my eyes open. It’s at these moments that I see clearly and consider the fleeting nature of life, alongside the absurdity of our conspicuous consumption. This happened while watching Thomas and Erik Haemmerli’s hyper-personal documentary Seven Dumpsters and a Corpse—perhaps the most compelling argument I’ve ever witnessed for our love of things being a kind of illness.

The film begins with film director/journalist Thomas learning of his mother’s death. What would commonly be a devastating event in its own right, becomes outright grisly when he, and his brother, are forced to deal with the mess left by a rotting corpse. This situation becomes increasingly more emotionally complex as they sort through a mountain of debris left from their mother’s hoarding behavior—and are consequently forced to dissect their personal histories.

Latin Lovers, Nazi officers, Kofi Annan, are just part of the story, set against a landscape of expired foods, lightbulb collections, and a cat infested holiday home. At times funny, at others sad, this poignant film asks viewers to consider what their things mean about them, and the legacies they leave behind.

The trailer is embedded below (apologies for the commercial which precedes it). You can watch the full film on YouTube Movies, or NetFlix.

The Family that Sold It All for a Life on the Road

The following is a guest post, courtesy of Michael Boyink.

Who Were We?

We were a pretty darn average suburban family of four. I was self-employed, working out of the basement of our non-remarkable ranch home, getting email from my wife upstairs when lunch was ready.  In addition to keeping the house running she handled 99% of homeschooling our two children.  Our life was the very recognizable family dance with the kid activity shuffle, the home repair two-step, the extended-family boogie, the client work cha cha cha, the occasional parents-only slow dance and the even rarer family vacation polka.


In between the music and busy-ness of all those dance steps, it occurred to us that our life was largely portable. Between an internet-based income and homeschooling, we weren’t tightly tied down to the place where we lived. I grew up taking extended family vacations in a RV, and those memories became the basis for what we affectionately called our “Pipe Dream”. Our Pipe Dream was a really long roadtrip as a family, seeing as much of the USA as we could. We’d discuss the Pipe Dream, share articles and links we found online, casually look at RV floorplans, but then the band would strike back up and we’d set the dream aside and get pulled back onto the dance floor.

Then my oldest turned 13.

We had a teenager in the house.  Our second would cross that threshold in another 19 months.  Suddenly the Pipe Dream had an expiration date, and if we didn’t open it soon, it was going to rot on the shelf. We decided to start pursuing the idea in earnest, and rather than just seeing if it was possible, we looked for a reason to not do it.

We didn’t find any.

Wheels on a Dream

We bought a truck and fifth-wheel trailer. We found someone to live in our house. We consulted our bank and insurance providers. We slowly let clients and family in on the plan to take a year traveling the country.

Our home while in Mesa, Arizona.
Our home while in Mesa, Arizona.

After roughly 9 months of planning, we departed our home town in September of 2010. Our next year covered 23K miles, 34 states, 82 campgrounds, 38 visits with friends and family, 24 libraries, 16 National Parks, 15 churches, 1 truck accident, and 0 flat tires.

Don’t Stop!

At around the 7 month mark, we realized a couple of things. One was that a year was not nearly enough to feel like we had seen what we wanted to see. The other was that we didn’t want to go back.  Not to who we were or how we had lived. We talked about it as a family and decided to finish out our year, then go back home and sell our house, get rid of anything that didn’t fit in the RV, and return to full-time travel indefinitely. By May of 2012, we had done just that and are now back in the RV full-time.

Why would a family do this?

We Live a More Integrated Life

While traveling, we feel like we’re actually living together as a family. Our suburban life in a house was like being in a centrifuge – it forced us apart and we lived largely in our separate corners. The kids would be in their rooms, I’d be down in the basement, and my wife would be up in the living room. We’d meet briefly for a meal, and then be off in our own space again.

Playing in a waterfall in Georgia
Playing in a waterfall in Georgia

Life on the road reverses the centrifuge, pushing us together where we end up in this bumpy mess of waiting for each other to move, excusing ourselves to get a plate, negotiating a single bathroom, sharing a slight 250 square feet of living space, each of us feeling it when someone rolls over in bed at night.

Does your world wiggle when a kid sneezes?

We Value Experiences Over Stuff

We were never really great at conspicuous consumption. While we certainly weren’t poor, we never made enough money to just buy really nice things. We became slaves to our second-hand possessions, spending vacations, spare cash, and the odd home equity-loan on trying to get everything to a “nice enough to have company over” point, sadly not realizing until too late that if we didn’t care what someone’s house looked like, it was likely no one cared about ours either.

Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park, California

Getting rid of the house and most of our stuff has gotten us off that treadmill. Yes, I still like a clean sharp truck and a picked-up trailer, but our world doesn’t revolve around it anymore. When we share our stories with people, the conversation rarely involves the options on our truck, or the number of slideouts on our trailer. Instead the interest and value is in who we’ve met, where we’ve gone, and what our plans are for the future.

We have so little baggage space, there just isn’t room for pretension.

We’re Less Selfish

We’re not on a schedule. We generally have no place we have to be. Because we have the time, we’re more likely to notice a need and stop to help. We’ve pushed out-of-gas trucks. We’ve given jump starts. We’ve handed out food. We’ve listened to tearful vets while folding laundry. We’ve had actual conversations with grocery store cashiers. We’ve delayed moving to the next place because we liked hanging out with the people in the site next to us.

We’re Thinking Bigger:

We are blessed. Richly, undeservedly blessed. We are now debt-free, location independent, schedule-independent, self-employed homeschoolers. We own our own days, and really don’t answer to anyone short of the law and clients. We could just sit back and enjoy this life.

But we think there’s more.

Impressed by the Redwoods in California
Impressed by the Redwoods in California

Not more in a sense of owning more or seeing more. Rather, more in the sense of using our position to bless others. There’s a certain amount we can do financially now that we couldn’t do before. We’ve started sponsoring a Compassion child. We’ve given valuable stuff away to people who had a dream for its use. We’ve sponsored Kickstarter projects. We’ve supported friends entering the adoption process.

We think there’s more yet.

We think there’s a “family dream” waiting for us somewhere.  We see this in the shape of a unifying goal/theme/activity/non-profit/ministry to both guide our travels and become the higher purpose for them.

Sunrise in Northern Michigan
Sunrise in Northern Michigan

And that’s the most significant way our life of travel has changed us. Our thinking and attention has shifted from being inward and focused on what we didn’t have or thought we should have, to being outward and focused on how much of ourselves we can give away.

We haven’t found that thing yet. We’ve talked with some organizations and haven’t found a good fit for a still-working family. But the search is on, and we live with a sense of anticipation for what lay ahead for us as a family.

Down the way, just around that corner.  See that road?

I wonder where that leads….

Want to tag along on this adventure? The Boyinks are continuing their journeys, and invite you to join them (even if it is vicariously) on their website: Boyinks4Adventure