Note: This is a guest post from Robin Shliakhau of Simplify and Pursue.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately. To front only the essential facts of life and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” —Henry David Thoreau
When you’re out in the wild and daylight is fading, you get stuff done. Fast. You strip down your routines to the bare necessities and you figure out what’s really important. You might find yourself rethinking how you do things. “What must be done before dark? What can wait? What is pointless? What is weighing us down? What can we live without?”
This was my reality when my family and our friends—nine of us all together—went on a weeklong camping trip. During our pre-trip planning we chose a location that would have little to no connectivity. We would also be without electricity and water at our campsite, though there was water nearby. For my family this was the most “off the grid” we had been.
We were thrilled and a little nervous.
When our journey toward a simpler way of life began four years ago, one of the benefits we were looking forward to was more time to spend outdoors. My husband and I are both nature lovers. But marriage and children and careers and the “typical American life” seemed to slowly eat away at our time spent outside.
When our first child came along we bought a backpack carrier, thinking that purchase would be the key to us getting back into the woods more. But as with all buying promises, it failed to deliver as we would dust it off only about once a year.
As we realized that our lives were cluttered both physically with our possessions and time-wise in all the commitments and activities we had, we began to make changes.
We purged our home of the obvious and with that momentum, we gave it another sweep, discarding even more items first deemed necessary. We also began saying something we rarely said — “No.” We noticed that every time we said yes to something, we were saying no to our family going hiking or pursuing other things that were more important to us.
As clutter disappeared, we found freedom, time, and energy to do more of what we love. We started hiking more and added weekend and weeklong camping trips. In doing so, we realized benefits to being outdoors that go along with our desire to live simply.
Physical Health. The physical health benefits from being outside may be pretty obvious at first, but there are more than I realized. Studies have shown that besides the vitamin D intake, being outside can boost immunity, reduce inflammation and even increase recovery and healing times. Activity outdoors can also have a higher fitness benefit than exercises done indoors.
Mental Health. A walk in the woods or even just a quick trip to a park can help lessen depression and anxiety, reduce stress, improve short term memory and reduce mental fatigue. Any time I need a boost in my mood, spending even five minutes in the sunshine will help. Imagine the benefits we receive from spending an entire day or even more outdoors.
Inspiration. As I’ve made it a priority to be outdoors, I find myself returning from outings inspired and excited about life. It’s almost like there’s a innate knowledge of what’s important and essential that awakens when you’re outside. Thoreau said, “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Many people claim that their best ideas come to them in the shower, I have had the same happen when in nature. My creativity, confidence, and focus all increase after a hike or weekend spent camping.
Good for our kids. In between my generation and the generation of my children there has been an extreme decrease in the amount of time kids spend outdoors. In his book, How to Raise a Wild Child, Dr. Scott Sampson cites several reasons that kids are spending more time indoors than ever before and shares shocking statistics of how little time kids get out versus hours of screen time each day. This has given rise to many negative consequences such as poorer physical and mental health. But as mentioned previously, all the benefits we as adults can reap from time spent outdoors, it is even better for our kids.
It is clear that time in nature is good for us and our kids. Simplicity has created more time for us to be outdoors.
Interestingly, that time outdoors has also given a boost to my commitment to live more simply.
Our week camping forced me to reevaluate some of our daily habits and rituals. We had to strip them down to the essentials in order to beat the darkness or make the most of our time. Why would I add to them when at home?
Are the extras I do or have at home really adding value to our day or to our life? But it’s not just maximizing my time, but realizing that the resources our earth gives us are limited and sometimes fragile. The excess and pace of modern life puts a strain on the environment and on our lives that we cannot fully comprehend. So let’s make time to get outside a little more and discover all the benefits nature has to offer.