Carl Barenbrug

Product design, creative direction

12 Things to Live Without

In 2018 I undertook a social experiment to see if I was self-disciplined and self-aware enough to live without 12 things. These 12 things would last just one month at a time between January–December, with the intention of identifying whether or not doing without these things would make a difference in my life. The premise was simple. The execution was not. You see, this is also lowering life’s requirements. Establishing what I feel I need and what is simply a "nice-to-have" option. The fewer requirements we have, the less of a burden these requirements become.

I wanted to introduce different ways of testing myself, tackling habits and routine. I went for the following:

  1. January: Alcohol
  2. February: Coffee
  3. March: Personal Social Media
  4. April: Meat
  5. May: Lists
  6. June: Free Weights for Calisthenics
  7. July: Added Sugar
  8. August: News (TV & Internet)
  9. September: Phone in the Evening (19:00-06:00)
  10. October: Shaving
  11. November: Personal/Home Purchases
  12. December: Contact Lenses for Glasses

1. Alcohol

I’m not a big drinker, so this was a rather simple start to the year. Typically, I would only drink once every couple of weeks at most, so I got through the month without issue. I feel I could easily live without alcohol permanently, but I won’t. I love a Negroni.

2. Coffee

Let the games begin! I also love coffee. The smell, the taste, the effects. This wasn’t going to be easy, but I wanted to determine whether I was addicted to coffee and if giving it up and substituting it with water and green tea would make much difference. I missed it, but I also realised I could absolutely live without it. The realisation was that coffee is a pleasure for me. Nothing more, nothing less.

3. Personal Social Media

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with social media. Like most people, I use it to stay updated on things that aren’t really that important to my life, and I also use it as a creative outlet—particularly Instagram. Although I still photographed a lot of things and felt the urge to express certain things on Twitter, I fought those urges to publish and saw through the month successfully. This was actually a breath of fresh air. We take for granted just how toxic social media can be, even though we, for the most part, have relative control over what we consume. This is one experiment I would recommend to anyone.

4. Meat

I have always been a meat-eater and always thought that becoming a vegetarian—admirable though it is—would result in a pretty tasteless and unsatisfying diet. I was right. Although I got through the month eating lots of beans, pasta, pizza, cheese, and vegetables, it is not something I want to do on a permanent basis—at least not yet.

5. Lists

My first failure of the year. I write a to-do list every single day. It helps me to be more organised and focused. I also like scoring things off at the end of each day and quickly reflecting on how productive that day was. It’s a routine I wanted to break to see whether I could maintain my focus and to-dos without reviewing a list several times a day. This test came at a very unfortunate time though—I was right in the middle of producing Minimalissimo’s third printed magazine. As you can imagine, keeping on top of a to-do list at that time wasn’t easy, so I said to myself that this social experiment wasn’t worth compromising my work with the mag. I was list-free for about five days.

6. Free Weights for Calisthenics

I workout every single day without fail, but with varying degrees of intensity throughout the week. Five of those days I am at the gym where the majority of training is through the use of free weights. Again, I wanted to change up this routine quite drastically, but at the same time maintain strength and muscle mass. My mistake for this month was that I had not researched enough calisthenic exercises before it started. Although I attempted various push/pull bodyweight routines, I wasn’t really enjoying it and my motivation to workout also softened, so about a week into the month, I reverted to incorporating free weights back into my workouts. My takeaway from this month however, is that I always add in at least one calisthenic exercise per training session.

7. Added Sugar

We should all look to reduce our sugar intake for our health. This was a month I wanted to be more mindful of the sugar contents I was consuming. I would look to avoid any foods that had ‘added sugar’ labelled on them. Sadly, I did give in to my cravings and I ended up lasting just over week of no added sugar. Still, I don’t do this often, and to this day I make a conscious effort not to buy too many sugary foods/drinks.

8. News (TV & Internet)

This one might seem a little odd, but let’s face it; the news we consume, whether it be through TV or online, is overwhelmingly negative. News doesn’t help us, it worries us, yet we’re enthralled by it—everyday. We don’t need to break down the scientific studies that prove WHY we are more likely to read/listen to negative rather than positive news, but removing news updates from our lives would undoubtedly do us the world of good. We also don’t need to get granular about what constitutes ‘news’, because people might perceive this differently. Once again however, I was beginning to miss my morning routine of waking up with BBC Breakfast. I only managed to shield myself from world news for about a week. I’m going to attempt this again one day for sure.

Side note: I recently discovered Not Depressing News. Enjoy.

9. Phone in the Evening (19:00-06:00)

Prior to September, I was falling into a bad habit of using my phone quite often in the evenings. This would include emailing, mindlessly browsing social media, and taking calls. I wanted to go a month where I could literally switch off in the evenings and spend more time with my girlfriend, but also to find a better balance throughout the day of screen time. It was a good test of discipline and one I managed to get through.

10. Shaving

Why would I try to give up shaving for a month? This was simply a test of self-confidence and how I would feel about myself sporting a hipster beard. I have never grown a full beard before, so it was a bit of a scary prospect. I failed. After about two weeks. It was a poor effort, but on to the next month.

11. Personal/Home Purchases

This was a test of discipline to achieve a little more financial freedom. It has been a year of some heavy investments, having finally gotten myself on the property ladder and curating my home. However, I still have debts, and so I wanted to exercise my discipline in spending on luxury items, whether it be furniture, home accessories, or personal items like clothing.

12. Contact Lenses

No, this was not a test to see if I could survive relying solely on my terrible natural eyesight. With a prescription of -4.25/-4.75, I’m not sure I would get by too well. Instead, this was another test of self-confidence and to wear glasses-only, as well as to simply let my eyes breathe for a month. Unfortunately, I fell at this hurdle too. I did wear my glasses more often, but sometimes it’s not that practical.

If you have attempted something similar, I’d love to hear your experience.

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