I got rid of my smartphone. Yep. It’s true.
Well, first, I deactivated my Facebook account. And that was fine, too. Actually, it was better than fine. It felt great. I was getting a little sharing fatigue. Too much sharing and too much thinking about sharing.
Have you ever been somewhere really beautiful – like the Grand Canyon – and you start to think to yourself, “How can I share this on Facebook?” Then you think, “How should I write the post?” or “Should I do just one photo or an album?” And that inevitably leads to, “I wonder what people will think of this.” Before you know it 10-15 minutes of your time at the Grand Canyon have gone by and the whole time you were thinking about Facebook. Ugh.
I hate that feeling. Twice before I’ve deactivated my account because I really hate that.
But those two times I deactivated my account weren’t the first time I deactivated it. The first time was when I first got my Facebook account and I got hooked on little red numbers. I could feel a small boost of dopamine every time that “bleem” sound a little red “1” would appear in response to my posts.
Oooh! Someone liked my post! Wow, that feels good.
After I realized those little red numbers felt too good, I deleted my account. And after a couple of days, it felt good to be off Facebook, too.
The first time I deactivated my account, I had only been on Facebook for a few months. After about a month of doing my own thing in my return to a Facebook-free life, I started to wonder what my friends were up to. So I made a few phone calls to check in. A really disappointing answer came from nearly everyone I called: “Well, it’s all right up there on Facebook.”
It was the end of an era. My friends had adopted Facebook as a sharing platform and to be in their lives in a meaningful way meant that I checked in with their Facebook pages from time to time. I couldn’t just opt-out of the platform unless I wanted to opt-out from a part of my friends’ lives that was really important to them.
Now, I’m on my fourth deactivation of my account. This time I did it on Thanksgiving. And I’ve been thinking about how to add Facebook back into my life without getting sucked into the drama…without losing an hour or two a day to it. To check in with my friends and my beloved mold groups occasionally, but be a little more insulated from the group think and the little red numbers addiction.
After giving it some thought, I could only come up with one answer. Ditch the smartphone.
Without the smartphone, I can only check into Facebook when I am at a hotel or coffee shop with internet access. That means that I don’t have to generate much discipline to avoid checking it. It’s like choosing to keep junk food out of the house. If you really want it, drive to get it. I like that.
So I did. A week ago, I switched back to a flip phone – a “dumbphone” – which only needs to be charged once a week. It is my little pocket-sized “stay off the internet” discipline-generator. My “wouldn’t you rather be reading a book” tool.
And I feel fine. In fact, I quite like it.
Sara Riley Mattson is the author of Camp Like a Girl and Migraine: Finding My Own Way Out. Sara has a bunch of stories on her Patreon page, too, which can be found here. To join Sara’s email list, click here.
“There is enchantment right in front of you, waiting for you to notice.” -Janet Luhrs
The bed was so warm when I crawled into it last night. I turned our “biomats” on while I was cooking dinner in anticipation of a cold night. This was good because I accidentally washed all of my pajama bottoms yesterday, and they were still a little wet when I went to bed. Dressed in only my husband’s “Woman is the Earth” shirt, my “sleep hoodie” and knee-high boot socks, I knew I was going to need the heater to stay warm.
I was asleep in less than ten minutes and only slipped into consciousness once in the night with the thought, “Mmmm…so warm.” When I woke up this morning it was 19 degrees outside, but my bed and I were still toasty. I’d slept nine blissful hours and was raring to go for a new day.
My husband laughed as I started singing while I was getting dressed. “You are so peppy!” he said.
“I know! I slept like a rock. I love our bed!” I slipped on my jeans and realized I didn’t have a clean fleece inside the van either. I guess I got a little ambitious with my laundry last night.
I ran outside and checked my quickest-drying fleece hanging on the clothes line. Yes! It’s dry! I love this fleece!
The local hawk who makes an appearance most mornings was up, too, sitting atop an electric pole. I’ve named him Thomas. “Good morning, Tom!” I yelled as I ran back to the van.
While my husband got dressed, I turned the van on to heat up the air a bit. I cut us some apple and cheese slices and drank some cold water from one of the glass milk jugs I keep our filtered water stored in.
My husband jumped into the front seat with a grin on his face. “That is some refreshing air!” I’ve learned that whenever he uses the word “refreshing,” it means he is having fun. He grabbed couple slices of apple and cheese for his breakfast.
“Let’s go get some coffee,” I said.
“Great idea!” my husband beamed.
As we drove to the gas station where we have learned they have fresh-ground coffee, I thought about how often we have mornings like this now. We may not always be completely comfortable, but we are almost always completely happy. And we definitely feel alive in a way we never did in our perfectly climate-controlled house.
We walked into the gas station and the woman there says, “Good morning, guys. How are you, today?”
“Really good. You?” my husband says. We stop and talk with her for a bit about the weather.
In their shiny-clean bathroom, I check my hair. Meh, good enough. I brush my teeth with the toothbrush and clay toothpaste I always have with me now. I wash my hands with the Kiss My Face soap I carry with me, dry my hands with a paper towel, use the paper towel to open the door to the bathroom. I follow this with the turn-round jump shot I’ve been practicing. The crumpled paper towel arcs through the air and into the trash can that is in between the two sinks.
Swish! Yes! That is eight baskets in a row!
This gas station has a sink by the coffee machines and I wash my reusable ceramic coffee cup in the sink. The piping hot water feels incredible on my hands. When I am finished, my green ceramic cup is sparkly-clean.
My husband smiles at me as he fills up his cup with his favorite coffee, Cowboy Coffee.
Right behind him is a real cowboy with, I kid you not, spurs on his boots. I can’t help but admire his weathered jeans and cowboy hat with two feathers and a leather strap. He even has a big, shiny belt buckle, although I couldn’t quite figure out what was on the belt buckle. The cowboy sighs long and slow as he fills up his coffee. I imagine his thought: A lot of work to be done today.
Our cups filled, we go up to the counter to pay. The woman there looks at our reusable cups and smiles. “Is this all you two have today?”
We smile back. “Yep.”
“Well, it’s on me, then. Have a wonderful day.”
“Thanks!” we say in unison.
Walking out to the van, I say to my husband, “These cups have paid for themselves five times over in free coffee!”
He laughs and says, “I know, right?”
Sitting in the van, we drink our coffee and talk about what we want and need to do today. But as we talk I think about what we’ve done this morning: get up, get dressed, use the bathroom, wash our cups, and have some breakfast and coffee. These are activities we’ve done our whole adult lives, but they are so joy-filled now. When everything was so comfortable, they were boring and tedious.
Our perspective has shifted and with it our happiness has been amplified. The simple necessities have become simple pleasures. A warm bed feels decadent. A dry fleece sparks joy. Warm water from a tap is luxurious and so washing a cup feels like a treat instead of a chore. And free fresh-ground coffee from the nice lady at the gas station starts our morning off with the generosity of another.
I tried to find this kind of happiness and contentment in a therapist’s office, in a bottle of Wellbutrin, in meditation, in setting and achieving goals, in focus, in music, in exercise, in hard work, and in giving to charity.
Who knew it was waiting for me in this simple cargo van life? This is more than just the happiness that comes from a drastic reduction of pain and relief from illness. This is the lesson all those wise and kind teachers-of-peace throughout history have tried to pass along through the ages. This is joy amplified by simplicity in life.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” –Lao Tzu
“How many undervalue the power of simplicity! But it is the real key to the heart.” –William Wordsworth
Sara and her husband are living full-time on the road in their converted cargo van. Sara’s beloved mold avoidance book: Camp Like a Girl can be found here and her book Migraine: Finding My Own Way Out can be found here.
A story about our life on the road from March:
Life on the road seems have an especially undulating nature for me. The good and pleasant and sweet times exist in a way they never seem to when I’m tethered to a normal life in the city. Perhaps this is because as each day begins there is nothing I really must do except the basic necessities of continuing to live and heal. This leaves my mind open and calm to observe the landscape, wildlife and enjoy the companionship of my husband and fellow campers.
On the really hard days, of which I had two this weekend, I just want a home again. I want a steady paycheck and my own bathtub and a cat. I want to know that there is somewhere safe for me to go if the world falls out from underneath me again.
Life on the road also has this sense of connection back to the old ways of humanity. I’ve become convinced that when we look back at the way women did laundry at the river for thousands of years and think, “What a pain. Life must have been so awful before modern conveniences!” we are way off.
Laundry is not so much of a chore if you are outside watching the cotton-tailed bunnies bouncing around the desert as you work. Especially on the calm and sunny days, it’s more of a meditative practice. One which leaves you a bed with sagebrush-scented sheets. Oh, how I love sagebrush-scented sheets.
Our process for doing laundry takes, in total time, not much more than doing them with a standard washer and dryer. It is just that while doing laundry, it is the only thing we can do. We use our own energy for the agitating, and the sun does the drying on the line. Each load goes through our little spin-dryer and I every time I use it I feel like I am watching something magical happen. Five minutes in the spin dryer and 30 minutes on the line is all it takes for my sagebrush-scented sheets to be ready. The steady focus of my mind and the minimum amount of electricity and water used feels right. It feels like how laundry is meant to be.
Cooking is similarly meditative on the warm and still days. On the cold and windy days it feels like eating couldn’t possibly be worth all this trouble. Perhaps this is why we are both slowly losing the extra pounds we backed on in our sedentary Phoenix year.
It seems like at least once a week, we run into a day when laundry must be done on a cold and windy day. And we must eat, but we have nothing easy to eat. Nothing fun. We were too responsible and purchased only real food at the grocery store.
Last week we ran into such a day. The sheets had to be washed. They’d picked up something funky at a different campground. Something funky which was keeping me and my overactive immune system from being able to sleep. It seemed like everything that could hurt was hurting.
The pain and sickness that I had been in had kept me from eating, too. My husband gets understandably worried when I feel too sick to eat. His plan was to make us a simple meal of lamb and potatoes. Lamb…the gentlest protein for me and potatoes the gentlest starch.
And so starts the game. I’ll do the sheets. He’ll do the stew. Can we get it all done in 40 minutes? With the wind whipping as it is…I think so.
I hang the clothes line up on the posts which support our picnic table’s shade cabana. At first I extend it out towards the trees on either side, but reconsider when I see the dust blowing across the campground. If I keep the line just near the cabana it is protected by our van.
I furiously work. Agitate. Rinse. Rinse. Spin. Hang.
Peter furiously works. Chop. Saute. Chop. Simmer. Stew.
Lamb stew which Peter has dressed up with dried apricots perfumes the air and I feel hungry for the first time in days.
I start to laugh as I realize the sheets are drying in literally minutes. The longest to dry is the fitted sheet because of the elastic. But it, too, is nearly dry in 20 minutes. The wind is so strong the sheets sound like cracking whips and they feel like cracking whips, too. As the duvet and pillowcases get finished, it feels as though I’m walking a gauntlet to get them on the line.
Then we are done! We did it. Warm nourishing lamb stew on a freezing cold day and clean sheets in under an hour. What a triumph!
Oh, that stew was good.
Except for here is the thing. The rub. The minor detail I did not consider when hanging my bedding above a pot of stewing lamb.
The scent of lamb cooking two feet from one’s sheets trumps the scent of just about anything else, including, especially including, the mild and gentle sagebrush scent 15 feet away.
Oh, well. A bed that smells like lamb stew…which really kind of smells like stinky feet beats a bed which leaves one wracked with pain. It ended up being a great night’s sleep.
I slept like a lamb.