ExerciseHabitshard things

A Year of Living Without

By August 5, 2013 6 Comments

I’ve been mulling this idea for over a month now, debating whether or not I really wanted to do it.

It’s called A Year of Living Without, or:  How I Made Room for Life.  I got the idea from Leo of Zen Habits who is also having a year of living without.  

This is where I give up one thing I enjoy each month and replace it with something else.

You can see why I wouldn’t want to do this, right?  Who really wants to give up Nashville?

But I’ve always been intrigued with the concept of self-mastery.  Can we truly master ourselves and our “natural” and human impulses?  Of course we can.

I also long to simplify life, to banish the clutter in my head, and truly live with what is most important.  I am convinced that living without something I want for a whole month will give me greater self-discipline in areas I want to “master”: parenting, spirituality, running, and writing.

Leo has different things he’s giving up, but I tweaked the list for my benefit.

12 Things I Will Live Without:

1.  July:  Nail Biting.  July was last month, I know, but I was still deciding whether or not to accept the challenge.  I did it. I went a whole month without biting my nails.  To do this, I had to know what the triggers are.  The trigger is the small jagged edge of a nail.  When I start feeling it, I bring my finger to my mouth.  STOP.  Replacement Habit:  Instead of biting I cut my nails, used a file my mother always keeps in her car, or just refrained from biting.  Is this a habit I want to break permanently?  YES.

2.  August:  Television.  I don’t watch any t.v. during the day.  The vice is at night when all the kids are finally in bed, and I sit down and watch a show with my husband.  It’s a lovely time, a mindless activity we both enjoy doing.  Gregor thinks this is stupid to give up 🙂 but I want to see how easy or hard it is. Note I’m not giving up movies.  Replacement Habit:  Read a book.

3.  September: Raising My Voice.  I purposely chose this one for September for two reasons:  School is starting.  Coaching begins.  I don’t yell a lot, but I raise my voice a lot…Calling for a kid upstairs, outside, downstairs, hurry up, we’re late, dribble, shoot.  Can I really not raise my voice while parenting and coaching soccer?  A soccer field is a huge space.  Can I be so effective with my body language and whistle that I won’t need to raise my voice?  Replacement Habit: Lower my voice, be commanding in action.  This one will be hard.

4.  October:  Email before Noon.  I admit, the first thing I like to do when I get up, before anyone else is awake, is check my email.  And since I have it on my phone, it’s even easier.  Instead of praying or meditating or writing or reading, or thinking about the day, I check my in-box.  I feel slightly addicted to email and want to be free of the pull for awhile, see if it helps me accomplish more.  I think I’ll be twitchy for days.  Replacement Habit:  Write a novel.

5.  November:  Late Nights.  My goal is to be in bed before 10 p.m.  I can function pretty well on 7 hours, but 8 is even better.  I have a feeling that being in bed before 10 p.m. will do wonders for my happiness and energy factor, but this one will also be hard, especially as it’s close to the holidays.  Replacement Habit: Sleep and reading in bed (dreamy!)

6.  December:  Gossip.  I don’t feel I’m a huge gossip, but I admit I like a juicy tidbit here and there. Especially where my husband and I work at a school, there is always so much good gossip!  I’d like my name and my house though, to be a place where other people feel their name is safe.  If you want to gossip with me this month, be advised I may listen and smile politely, but you will have to wait for January for me to contribute. Kidding.  Maybe I can break the habit all together. Replacement Habit:  Change the subject, read a book, comment on the weather 🙂

7.  January:  Candy.  Oh dear, this was hard for me to put on the list.  When I’m writing in the afternoon, I love to snack on Junior Mints.  I love a good chocolate bar.  Sometimes those Starbursts just really hit the spot.  I’m giving it up this month, right after the Christmas holiday.  There could be serious withdrawal, be advised.  Replacement Habit:  Fruit?

8.  February:  Fast Food.  I live far from civilization; there are no fast food places in my town except a pizza place.  I’m defining fast food as take-out.  Fast food is a vice when I am coming home from the orthodontist with a child, or am tired and hungry after hitting Target.  Too bad for Mama.  No greasy french fries this month.  Replacement Habit:  Keep driving!  Grocery store.

9.  March:  Soda.  I rarely drink soda, but again, it’s the afternoon witching hour when I’m tired and a Diet Coke over ice just reaaaalllly hits the spot.  The caffeine and the taste are such a pick-me-up.  I indulge only 1-2 times per week, but it’s a treat I enjoy.  Replacement Habit:  water over ice, juice

10.  April:  Sitting for Longer than 30 minutes.  I do tons of sitting while writing and reading.  I hunch over.  My posture is worsening.  Every 30 minutes I will get up and move.  This should energize and help me not be so stiff. Replacement Habit:  Stand while writing, stretch, push-ups, walking

11.  May:  Red Meat.  I purposely put “red meat” and not just meat because I still want to eat chicken and even though I know that dairy, eggs, beans and dark, leafy greens will give me sufficient protein, I like a little chicken, fish, or pork at dinner time.  A little meat is also a healthy habit, not something I need to make many changes with.  Perhaps someday I’ll be able to try being a vegetarian, but this is not yet that time.  Replacement Habit:  More beans at dinnertime

12. June:  Buying New Things.  Is there really anything I need to buy?  I’ll buy food and shop for the family, but I won’t buy anything new like clothes, shoes, or hair products 🙂 for the entire month.  We shall live by the law of frugality. Replacement Habit:  Purge more, have a yard sale, enjoy what I already have

13.  July:  The Internet.  My husband says there’s no way this is possible, but it will be easier to give up the internet in July rather than during the school year because it’s summer time.  I will write posts (I think?) but no blog reading, people.com (yikes!), or CNN articles.  I think this will be a hard one, especially if I’m doing any sort of research for an article I’m assigned.  Replacement Habit: Write a book, read more, talk to my kids and family

I purposely chose Actions rather than Feelings.  For instance, making the goal to quit feeling badly after a writing rejection really isn’t something I can control.  I chose things that I can control and are within my power.  I cannot control someone else’s action, only my reaction.

Things I’m Already Living Without:
Debt.  Except for our home.
Brussel Sprouts

I’ve never had any of these things, so this isn’t hard to live without.

Things I Wanted to Put on the List But Didn’t Want to Give Up:
Processed Food.  I don’t eat a ton of it, but almost every morning I make a smoothie and have a peanut butter sandwich on high quality, multi-grain bread.  I like it, it makes me feel good, and I don’t want to have to make bread so often.  I wimped out.  
White Sugar
White Rice
Goldfish crackers and boxed brownie mixes?  Not so willing to give up!
Social Media.  This would be the easiest on the list to give up since I’m not all that active, but it would be hard to completely disconnect
iPhone.  Especially now that I have a teenager with a phone who texts me all the time with schedules and rides, it would be hard to live without

Things I Wanted to Put on the List and Want to Give Up:
I seriously considered cooking and cleaning, but worried my home would be condemned within hours.  Still, “refusing to clean up after others” may be an eye-opening experience for everyone.

Why Am I Doing This?
To Master myself. I think it’s false that we can’t live without.  I also believe that too much of this good, but extra “stuff” keeps us from some of the best stuff, like our families.

So, here’s to a year without.  If you care to join me, I would sure love your company!  I would also love to hear your comments on what would be hard for you to give up, or what you would give up instead of what I have listed.  Good luck!

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier – not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson 



  • What an interesting experiment. I definitely have a few things I should give up and others that would be good to go without for a while (a cup of hot cocoa every night for instance). Hmmm…this is going to cause me to think for a few days.

  • Haunani says:

    wow…I’m impressed that you have the whole 12 months laid out in advance. I’m not sure I have the willpower to do what you’re doing. Good luck and looking forward to updates!

  • What a fantastic set of goals! I will be stealing this and attempting a mini-version of several of your items! Oh, and I love the replacement activity for number 4 🙂

  • I love, love this idea, Amy, and it really has me thinking. I’d love to do something similar. I just wonder how I’ll plan it out. I hope you’ll keep us posted on the progress. I wonder at the end of the month how you’ll feel and whether you will unconsciously continue living without beyond the 30 days… And good luck!

  • Andrea says:

    Great plan! I’ve been thinking for a couple of months that I am just too busy. I need to simplify. I’m going to give this some thought, and see what I can cut out of my life. We’re getting rid of the chickens soon — that should help!

  • Debbie Brown says:

    A few years ago I gave up evening TV – replaced it with earning my Master’s. To this day I watch very little TV – maybe 3-4 hours a week. I still don’t miss it. Plan to do it again next fall as I start working on my PhD.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.