Camping under the stars

Buck the System: 10 Hacks to Live with More Freedom + Less Hassle

Confession time: I’ve spent too much of my adult life complaining about the irrational tyrants, faceless conglomerates and petty regulations that often seem to be in the way at every turn.

When I grew tired of merely griping, I went to work trying to change what I thought I could. Then, after I wore myself out editorializing, speaking and phoning (to mostly little effect), I decided to sit out the rest of the game and participate when my voice would actually count for something (by living in New Hampshire among more like-minded people).

Then Brian and I decided to indefinitely postpone our New Hampshire move in favor of living a life that promises to be even more on our terms. The prospect of having less of a home base made me step back and rethink my direction.

I realized this: I am tired of being reactive. Anymore it seems like there’s no point in playing the game. If you doubt me, just ponder our last presidential election.

I just want to do my thing. And actually, right now Brian and I are doing our thing, and making choices for the future that will minimize hassles and maximize our bottom line as much as is possible.

Without ties to a specific place, we’ll be free to choose what will benefit us the most. That doesn’t mean I won’t speak up about things I think slight us all. But instead of reacting to every foolish edict that comes down from on high, I’d rather go where the fools and their rules matter less, and proactively choose what makes our lives better.

Harry Browne may not have been the first guy to suggest how a person could be free to live as he/she chose despite external forces, but Browne’s book on the topic still sells well more than four decades after its initial publication. In its introduction, he writes:

There are things you can do to be free, and if you turn your attention to those things, no one will stand in your way. But when you become preoccupied with those who are blocking you, you overlook the many alternatives you could use to bypass them.

In that spirit, and while we are waiting to live a more free life ourselves, I’d like to share my favorite “hacks” for living with more freedom, less frustration and greater fulfillment.

1) Free your mind

You could be in the freest place on earth, but if you’re involved in a negative relationship, struggling with an addiction or you tend to have self-defeating thought patterns, there’s little freedom to enjoy. There’s a reason this hack is at the top of the list, and it’s not just that I’ve dealt with most of this crap myself. Addressing negative influences on your thought patterns is easily the most powerful thing you can do to not only feel more free, but to be empowered to take further steps toward a life that’s actually free in ways that are important to you.

I’m not a counselor. I don’t even play one on TV. So I can’t tell you what you need to do for your particular situation. Things I know can be helpful from experience (mine or loved ones’): a good rehab program, Al-Anon, understanding and embracing your personality type, books (as an introvert, I found The Introvert Advantage incredibly helpful), not being a sarcastic jerk to your partner, and moving on from relationships that don’t respond to consistent positive efforts.

2) Improve your fitness level

Darebee – Free fitness programs for everyoneNothing is more freeing than having the energy and resultant state of mind to go where you want and do what you like. I haven’t yet figured out how to reach and maintain a decent fitness level without physical activity, which for me right now means exercise. Damn it. But the bonus is that in addition to feeling better physically, I’m happier and my brain works better. I’m not the only one who’s felt the effects of exercise – it’s documented stuff, y’all.

Even if you have physical limitations or you’ve let your body slip into an abysmal state, there’s always something you can do to feel and move better. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, so don’t think it’s pointless if you’re not up for hours of exercise per day or you don’t want to buy an expensive gym membership. Whatever you do will benefit you in some way. Even just walking.

Reminder: Brian’s lost nearly 60 pounds through diet and exercise – almost exclusively walking.

If you’re like me and bored to tears by exercise, or somewhat broken down and afraid exercising may lead to a counterproductive injury, I have a resource for you that is the least worst way to get in shape. Goofy name, but: DAREBEE. <– This link is to a chart that will help you pick a program, but the rest of the site is loaded with stuff that's the real fitness deal, so check it out. All of it is free (but supported by voluntary contributions) and is really well done. Many of the programs require absolutely no equipment, and you can download them for offline use or load them up on even small smartphone screens.

I'm 10 days into the Foundation program, and doing it at Level II. When I was injured I used Foundation Light to help recover. Foundation Light would also be good for someone with a very low level of fitness. Don’t fret if that’s where you are – you will notice positive changes without much difficulty. 90 Days of Action will take you from average to kick-ass. It was the first DAREBEE program I tried. Eventually, I want to work up to this Military Fit program. (HOOAH!) Wanna join me?

3) Make your own stuff

Homemade yogurt

Vastly better beer – without paying an extra buck or so for state “permission” to buy it. Fresher, healthier, tastier bread. Vegetables you know for certain were grown without pesticides. Fresher, creamier, tastier yogurt without weird or unpronounceable ingredients. Each of these kitchen/garden projects has its own payoff that you’ll have to value on your terms. But if you’re up for rolling up your sleeves, books and blogs abound to show you the way.

If you don’t have or want to make much of a time investment, picking up actual food (as in single ingredients) instead of boxes or bags of processed crap gives you more control over what you eat. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but if you shop at a supermarket, shop the perimeter , i.e., produce, meat/seafood and dairy.

When you care about what you put in your body and how it makes you feel, it doesn’t work to cede control to Kraft, General Mills, Unilever, et al. Oxfam’s “10 Companies That Control Everything You Eat” meme is a bunch of hooey unless you can’t figure out how to eat something that doesn’t come in a box or bag.

I know you’re smarter than that because you’re reading Wandering Porcupine.

10 companies controlling most of the world's food supply
These 10 companies feed 99% of the world’s ignoramuses.

4) Expand your horizons

Even though I’ve done a 180º from the days I insisted ALL my kids MUST go to college (one of many parental fails – sorry, kiddos), pursuing education in some form or fashion makes for a more attractive (and possibly more lucrative) package – as long as you’ve got a goal in mind (and that goal isn’t just to earn a piece of probably worthless paper). The price of traditional higher education doesn’t usually offer a great ROI, but there are at least a couple of pretty awesome alternatives out there that are free or cheap.

Khan Academy, for example, offers “a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” Math, science and engineering, computing, economics – you can bone up on any of these subjects using the resources at Khan Academy.

Mike Rowe has a job for you
Mike Rowe’s foundation offers scholarships to train for high-paying, in-demand jobs.

Are you the type who’s not afraid to get your hands dirty? Mike Rowe has a job for you. Three million of them, as a matter of fact. Rowe’s Work Ethic Scholarship Program provides scholarships to hard workers who want to train for skilled jobs that are in actual demand. The 2017 application process opened a couple of weeks ago, and closes on the 19th of May.

If you’re of traditional college age but want something quicker, more satisfying and with a better ROI than a 4-year degree, Praxis enables motivated people to apprentice at a startup, then get a full-time job after nine months. At $12K, it’s far cheaper than college. But it gets even better. During your apprenticeship you’ll earn enough to completely cover the cost.

5) Rethink home ownership

Do you really want to buy a house?
Do you really want to buy a house?

People are figuring out in droves that home ownership isn’t the guaranteed investment our parents (and the National Association of Homebuilders, National Association of Realtors and other organizations with a vested interest) promised us. Not only that, but home ownership comes with more burdens than just a downpayment and mortgage. Maintenance, repairs, insurance, property taxes, home improvement, decorating, utilities, yard work, zoning, local politics – all can suck the life out of you unless you’re really into the house thing.

If you’re beginning to believe owning a house is overrated, there are several options that may better suit your needs. Rent and let someone else deal with the maintenance, keeping your size and location options open. Downsize and minimize your tax, budget and maintenance burdens. Or opt out of traditional housing altogether, using AirBnB to find and rent properties wherever you want to be, for however long you’d like to stay. And of course, there’s the option to own a home on wheels and live nomadically. +1 for RV life!

If you own a home, or you’re feeling pressure to buy into the “American Dream” illusion, remember that you’re the one sacrificing time and money for whatever shelter you choose, so don’t let anyone talk you into something that doesn’t fit the lifestyle you want.

6) Poke a stick in prying eyes

Hand me a bee bee gun, will ya?
Hand me a beebee gun, will ya?

Even if you’re not a whistleblower or secret agent, should anybody be able to eavesdrop on your private conversations? I don’t think so. I don’t care if I’m asking hubby to pick up toilet paper on the way home or he’s telling me a crazy customer story – our mundane, everyday moments are nobody’s business. Even if it’s something less banal – say, we know something that would make a local politician look bad – we ought to be able to choose who to share that information with.

So much data is collected that most of it will never do anything but sit in a giant building in Utah with all the other petabytes and zettabytes. Still, if someone with access wanted to make your life miserable, why make it easy? Do you really want a creeper to know that your weakness for Cherry Garcia often leads to 3AM trips to 7-Eleven? Or perhaps like me you lead a fairly run-of-the-mill existence but prefer to stay private on general principal?

Speak, text and post freely by heading over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and reading their Security Starter Pack. It’ll show you how to lock down as much as you want. Or, just start by locking down your texts and calls using the Signal app for end-to-end encryption.

7) Choose disruptive companies

Uber. Lyft. Amazon. AirBnB. Eatsa. TaskRabbit. Doctor On Demand. Upwork. Most any food truck. Each of these businesses do things differently enough to create an advantage over competitors. This benefits not only the business itself, but people like us who choose it over other options. It’s why there’s often fierce opposition by direct competitors, who sometimes go as far as lobbying political officials to create legislation that forces the new kid out.

No thanks – I'll stick with my horse and buggy.
I’ll stick with my horse & buggy, thanks.

Innovative companies disrupt the status quo, and can bring crazy-good price advantages to heretofore uncompetitive markets. This is great for consumers, because when a market’s players get too comfortable for too long, we pay more than we should and sometimes get less than we ought to.

A friend who’d sold a house using Duffy Realty recommended the flat-fee brokerage when he heard we were planning on putting our house on the market. While it’s possible an aggressive, experienced agent could be an asset worth the price of commission, I’m skeptical they’d do more than what we’ll pay Duffy $500 to do.

When I bought my first home over 20 years ago – when there was barely an internet – my agent mostly kicked ass. When I went to sell the house ten years later, I chose a local agent that had won all the awards. He made sure I signed the contract in the right places, then collected his share of both my sale and the purchase price of my next home.

I found that new home myself, by the way – after weeks of scouring listings, looking at properties the agent showed me that weren’t quite right, and setting up saved searches on the MLS website. As for the buyer of my home – he came to me when he found out from a family member who lived across the street that my house was for sale.

The agent didn’t do a thing beyond listing the house in the area MLS. And speaking of listings, his photos were lame. I took better ones and then had to hound him for at least two weeks to update the listing with the new photos.

When a local realtor I’m acquainted with found out we planned to use Duffy, she was upset. But she couldn’t explain what we needed that Duffy wouldn’t provide.

When you find a business doing things that are crazy good for customers, get on board quick. Their innovative products, services or process may immediately save you time, money or frustration. Longer term, you could be a part of the momentum that helps steamroll competitors and the lawyers and legislators the competition often enlist in hopes of maintaining their lock on the market.

8) Buy or sell without middlemen

Strawberry Balsamic Jam
Mmmm…Bootleg Strawberry Balsamic Jam

Your conscience will undoubtedly inform your options here, but whether you go all in or not, cutting out the middleman means you can keep more of your profits and sell whatever you want. You could go as far as developing a completely under-the-table side hustle, or stay as safe as setting up an online business that doesn’t require forking over a cut of the action to a platform (eBay, Etsy, Shopify, et al) and a payment processor (PayPal, Stripe) every time you sell a widget.

I know of an enterprising gentleman who tears down barns and sells the oh-so-trendy barnwood on Craigslist. Brian and I used Craigslist to sell locally for cash when we began to purge our household items. Craigslist can certainly be sketchy, but for things with higher price points the rewards outweigh the potential risk and commonsense measures can mitigate that.

If you really want the freedom to do business on your own terms, look into OpenBazaar, a peer-to-peer marketplace platform that is free (or nearly free, for moderated sales) to use. You’ll also escape payment processor fees because all transactions are completed with Bitcoin. Depending upon what you want to do, there may be some downside to OpenBazaar. If you are a rebellious hellion like me, though, you’ll be eager to set up a black-market jam shop in defiance of health inspectors, zoning officials and taxing authorities. Hell yeah! What flavor should I make first?

9) Speak freely

If you have a message, story or song to share or sell, almost no gatekeepers remain between you and your audience in 2017.

Raise your voice.
Raise your voice.

You no longer need an inside connection to get your novel published. Just write it, format it, and upload it to Amazon and other book sellers. You don’t have to beg a newspaper or magazine to print your opinion piece. Just start a blog, write your article and publicize it on social media. You can record and distribute your music without third party roadblocks. Just upload to Bandcamp and sell or give your recordings to fans.

Even something as technical and potentially impactful as a podcast is an attainable feat for average Joes. Oftentimes you can step out onto any of these free-speech platforms completely free ( FTW!). When there is a cost involved it’s usually minuscule, and in proportion to the level of service provided. Cast, for example, makes podcasting idiotproof for $10 – $30 per month. Amazon takes a chunk of each book sale, but doesn’t charge anything up front so it’s easy to get started.

After freeing your mind and body, writing, speaking or singing what’s on your mind or in your heart is in my opinion the most transformative thing you can do – even if you decide it’s for your eyes only.

10) Opt out of ill-fitting societal expectations

What makes you happy, and why? I’m not talking about mere hedonism, but where you personally find fulfillment. Oftentimes we are so locked into “shoulds” imposed by others that we do not live the life we ought. The one that plays to our strengths and lets us contribute to the world in ways that leave us feeling energized instead of depleted. If you’re thinking that what I’m advocating would turn us into a planet full of selfish jerks, you’re missing the point.

You belong somewhere you feel free.
You belong somewhere you feel free.

These days we’re told over and over how we ought to think of everyone else except ourselves. I recently read something on this topic (cannot for the life of me recall where – please tell me if you know so I can give credit) that quickly showed the folly in the notion of holding up selflessness as an ideal.

The article I read showed that, when you think it through to its logical conclusion, you quickly see that selflessness is a ruse.

The ideal begins with each of us looking out for everyone but ourselves (who we actually know best how to serve), and making assumptions about what’s best for others. If we somehow had the ability to carry this behavior through to completion, at the end of the unselfishness line you’d have a lone selfish person – the recipient of the world’s unselfishness? Or, wait – no – maybe all of us live to please others so everyone’s constantly guessing or assuming what others want instead of expecting people will do what they feel is best for themselves? It’s a good thing that human nature would cause this ideal to fall apart almost immediately, or life would be incredibly frustrating.

Putting yourself last is a pointless charade. Do what is right for you. Period. In the long run it affects everyone else in your life. Just as in an in-flight emergency, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can be in a position to help others.

If your parents are pressuring you to reproduce because they want grandchildren, stand your ground if you’re not ready, or you feel you’ll never be ready for parenthood. Your potential children (or non-children) will thank you later.

Does your entire family practice a religion that doesn’t ring true for you? Do you make excuses for not attending services instead of just being honest? That kind of persistent internal conflict is more stressful than getting things out in the open and getting it over with.

Whether it’s home ownership, marriage, a college degree, traditional employment or being straight, you are the one who has to get up every single day and deal with the full impact of the life you’ve created. If you share that life with a spouse or child, of course you’ll want to consider his/her feelings since at some point you made a decision that brought that person into your life. Whether or not you’re flying solo, though, don’t underestimate the overall positive impact of changes that more closely sync your inner and outer lives.

What’s your hack?

How have you opted out of the expected to live life on your terms? Is there anything in my list you liked (or didn’t)? Use the comment area below to let me know what’s on your mind.

4 thoughts on “Buck the System: 10 Hacks to Live with More Freedom + Less Hassle”

  1. What a fantastic post with lots of good ideas! Some of them I already do to a certain extent, others I’m going to put into practice really soon now. Bookmarked for future reference so I don’t do too many all at once as that generally contributes to my failing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have only relatively recently abandoned the “I should do all the things!” compulsion, so I feel ya, Andrew. Took me decades to figure out that what I *actually* should do/be is a list of things unique to me. And probably a much smaller list than I think.

      That last part I’m still working on.

      Thanks for your comment, and for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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