I love quitting things. Possessions. Habits. Jobs. But you know that.

At the moment, I’m trying to overcome a health problem by temporarily quitting things to see what happens: bread, alcohol, caffeine, prescription antihistamines, hot showers. Giving up hot showers has been the toughest so far but the one that makes the most difference. Try it! It’s Hell!

Anyway, all this has led to my marveling once again about the importance of decreasing one’s requirements for life. It’s no fun quitting bread, but who really needs it? It’s liberating to see if you can go without something for a while.

Consistent, back-of-the-mind reflection on what you do or do not need is Escapology 101 and just part of the machinery of living as a free person instead of a worker-consumer — but it really is good to do and it’s worth remembering to do it if you don’t.

It’s also, it seems, suddenly topical.

Leo Babauta has been posting sporadically to his mnmlist blog and his Lowering Your Life’s Requirements entry just plopped into my feed this morning. He’s quitting coffee and booze:

I saw a long line at Peet’s Coffee, and decided I didn’t need the coffee to be awake, happy or alive.

When something becomes a need, a requirement, it locks us in. We have to have it, which means we start structuring our lives around it.

For lots of us, it’s more than just coffee: we need a glass of wine (or beer) in the evening, we need some quiet time alone, we need things to be neat, we need to watch some TV to unwind in the evening, we need the Internet for entertainment and news. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but soon the requirements for a happy life start piling up. What are your requirements, things you can’t do without?

Then I notice that Russell Brand’s been plugging a book called Recovery: Freedom from our addictions. It seems to be a memoir about his personal struggle with drug addiction but also a sort of self-help guide on how to apply the 12 Step Programme to quitting less dramatic addictions like Twitter-checking, pornography and sugar.

And then I find that Mark Boyle, the “moneyless man” I mention in my own book, is writing for The Guardian again. His little essay series, written from the perspective of someone who has completely rejected modern technology, contain such plums as:

most of what afflicts us today – cancer, obesity, mental illness, diabetes, stress, auto-immune disorders, heart disease, along with those slow killers: meaninglessness, clock-watching and loneliness – are industrial ailments. We create stressful, toxic, unhealthy lifestyles fuelled by sugar, caffeine, tobacco, antidepressants, adrenaline, discontent, energy drinks and fast food, and then defend the political ideology that got us hooked on these things in the first place. Our sedentary jobs further deplete our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, but instead of honestly addressing the root cause of the illness we exert ever more effort, energy, genius and money trying to treat the symptoms and contain the epidemics.

Knowledge of what you need and what you don’t need is escapological in that it helps your great escape from worker-consumer culture into the good life but they’re also acts of escape in themselves; the escape from coffee, the escape from tech, the escape from dependencies.

Look around. What can you do without? Would life be better without it? How so? Would it save you some money, save some time, help you to be healthier, make you stronger or less frustrated when you can’t get it? Would it help you move into the good life?

Try escaping something for a limited time at first and then escape it forever if you want to.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

6 Responses to “Needs”

  1. Neil Scott says:

    I gave up caffeine for four months but came to the conclusion that my brain had been changed by it (see The sluggishness never completely disappeared.

    Good luck with the cold showers and do check out Wim Hof, whose technique has apparently worked on a lot of immune disorders:

  2. Haha. Great. “The cold is merciless but righteous as well.”

  3. Chris says:

    A great tip is to return things before the 31 days return policy or the 14 days services chacnellations (mobile, internet etc). I recently bought a sky connection, laptop, several clothes from H&M, renewed my car insurance and also decided to ‘upskill’ by purchasing an accountancy course plus the accompanying materials. I had an awful few days of regretting said purchases so just decided to return everything. It felt great. This could be a great anti capitalist one man rebellion hobby! shoving the terms and conditions back where they belong – out of the corporate coffers and back into my pocket. Wahey

  4. Chris says:

    I should add to the above. I replaced all of said items with the following alternatives:
    – free library internet
    – fixing my bike
    – stopped donation of charity bag and just kept my old clothes
    – read free library books on subjects rather than pay for certification

  5. Matt Colombo says:

    Thanks for this post – both planting the idea and the links! I read about Mark Boyle long ago, forgot about him, and what bold action he has taken since then!

  6. Yes, he’s pretty swell. He also put his book online for free:

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