Thursday, September 2, 2010

Simplifying Your Life

My iGoogle portal page displays a different WikiHow every day and I was recently impressed by the advice offered in Simplify Your Life.

Here's my own version using their outline.

1.1 Starting out
In my 20's I believed success was measured by the the amount of stuff you owned, the size of your house, the style of your car etc. Luckily by the age of 25 I realized these were all superficial and began a life long process of living simply - owning the minimum of clothing, electronics, real estate etc.

My daughter has embraced these values and at 17 she does not own any designer clothing or trendy "must have" consumer goods. By her own design, her bedroom is a minimalist tatami room with a futon, kotatsu (a low wooden table), and clothes storage.

1.2 Home and family life
When I was in my 20's and had a larger home, I spent all weekend maintaining the home and garden. My belongings owned me, I did not own them. Complexity and quantity bring maintenance burdens, so I did not have free time to just enjoy the world around me and live an examined life.

Today, my only maintenance tasks are keeping indoor plants watered, supporting our seasonal traditions of planting fruits and vegetables, and the basics of keeping a house in good condition.

Our family life is simple. I married the first woman I dated. We've been together for 30 years. We have one child. We gather for dinner together every night (wife, daughter, father in law, me). We visit the Sierra in August. We spend Columbus Day weekend near Mt. Monadnock. On occasion we travel to Japan together. We do not have nor want a vacation home, a boat, an RV, or yearly events that require a significant planning burden.

My business clothing is all black. My outdoor clothing is red and black. Everything I wear is made by just a few manufacturers - Arcteryx, Vegetarian Shoes, and Injinji. On average, my clothes last 5 years.

Our foods are all simple vegetables - no meat, no eggs, no dairy. We rarely eat out.

1.3 Finances
We live in small home without a mortgage. We avoid consumer debt. We save as much as we can.

1.4 Work
In each of my jobs, I have strong direct reports with very little turnover. We all work hard to put governance processes in place that minimize conflict and simplify resource allocation.

I try to minimize travel. 2009-2010 required a day or two per month in Washington to support ARRA/HITECH efforts, but in general I try to avoid airports.

My workday routine is a morning walk with my wife, followed by a BIDMC/Harvard time from 8am-6p, followed by a family dinner, followed by writing in the evening - it's generally very predictable.

1.5 Technology and Communications
I own a Blackberry Bold 9700 and a MacBook Air - no other technologies or gadgets to maintain and support.

1.6 Personal health and well being
As a vegan for 10 years, I've been able to keep my body mass index at 20. My seasonal activities - hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, and climbing keep me exercising outdoors. Avoiding caffeine keeps my mood even.

1.7 Time spent with others
Morning walks with my wife, winter hiking with my friends, and multiple visits to my parents in California ensure I'm always sharing my thoughts, feelings, and fears with others.

Having lived many lifestyles as an adult - from Silicon valley entrepreneur to winemaker to doctor, I can say that the journey is truly more important than the destination. Living simply along the journey enables you to savor the details of existence along the way.

Of course, I would never criticize anyone for wanting to try a complex, high burn rate lifestyle. However, once you've experienced all the options, I suspect that you too will decide that less is more.


Unknown said...

Lovely and very Inspiring read. "Things" bring complications to your life. I like your writing style too. Simple but to the point.

crystal anson said...

I strive to live that simply and I envy you for being able to do so.

Unknown said...

Dr. Halamka - thank you so much for this thoughtful article. Simplicity and Technology are two of the main issues that I've contemplated over the last year. I am a recent college graduate, working in a hospital IT department while applying to medical school. I was raised in a Mennonite family in Lancaster, PA. I am inspired by your example - a person who manages the complexity of medical IT, yet practices simplicity in thier everyday life.

Jurvis LaSalle said...

Good advice, but I find bmi to be a poor indicator of fitness.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the article I liked it.

I do many of those things but fail perhaps on the time sharing.

Its funny I choosed sometime ago not to have a car and to use public transport. I commute using bike and train (I'm allowed to take the bike with me on the train). This style liberates me I have simplified all the trouble of having and owning a car. People think it is more complex because I'm subject to the train times for example but the health and stress benefits exceed what comes with having a car. And if I need one for a special ocassion (holiday or visitors) I rent one.

I feel motivated to follow some of your examples

Thanks again

Snowdrift said...

Interesting story, but to me complexity is beauty. Yes, it's annoying, time consuming and stressful, and usually unprofitable in a business sense, but it's way more fun.

I visited a Victorian sewage pumping station in Cambridge (UK) at the weekend - it is now a museum of technology. They have a pair of steam engines installed in 1860 to pump sewage - beautiful machines, about 60ft long, in working order, a mass of levers, pistons, valves, slides and pipes. By 1915 they had installed an electric motor of equal horsepower to do more or less the same job. A dull green box about 4ft by 4ft.

By every financial and engineering standard, the electric motor is better. More reliable, cheaper, easier to maintain, fewer moving parts. Minimalist.

But I'll take the steam engine any day. So with machines, as with life :)

C. Burke said...

Thank you for this timely post. It's a great reminder.

John said...

I admire your efforts at simplifying your life and it gives me motivation to look at my own life. However, have you thought about extending to your professional career as well? As a CIO of two organizations (among your other responsibilities) have you thought that your life would be simpler if you gave up one? I would imagine that there must be times when both organizations are competing for your time/attention at the same time. I am sure you have worked out some kind of understanding with the people that you report to when this occurs, but it would interesting to hear your thoughts on this.

John Lynn said...

I think one of the best lessons I learned in college was the value of living modestly. It's enabled so many options that wouldn't have been possible had I been "living within my means" instead of modestly.

Plus, the best feature of living modestly is the gift it gives our children. Those who teach their children to live the high life end up restricting their children's ability to do whatever they want with their life since so many of the various avenues of life can't be supported unless you know how to live modestly.