Unnecessary Things

After a reader asked about why I don't use shower products on the cold showers post comments, I started thinking of other things people do or use that I find I don't need. Here's a short list, preceded by a disclaimer: I'm not a joyless robot, deranged workaholic, or dirty hippy, so don't start with the pattern matching of stereotypes and questioning of my humanity. I just like to experiment.

Dessert. I randomly decided to only eat one dessert (the French macarons at my wedding) in 2013, and it has been great. It's simpler this way: I never have to resist eating desserts, and I appreciate tasty non-dessert food more. Drawback: sometimes I have nightmares where I accidentally eat a cinnamon roll, or some baddies are chasing me and trying to shove donuts into my mouth.

Drinking things that aren't water. From an early age I never wanted to try soda or coffee, and this persisted to never trying alcohol, either. I eventually accidentally had a digestif on a romantic date with Chloe in Paris, but it was gross. I stopped drinking fruit juice because it's too sweet, milk because of experiments with cutting out dairy, and vegetable juice because it gives me gas. What else do people even drink? Tea, I guess--I drink that when Chloe makes it, but I honestly don't see much difference between tea and hot water. It's just easier to be content with water than to ever crave some other sort of beverage.

Shower products. I gave more details in this comment, but basically I found that after five weeks of not using shampoo, my grease production shut down and I no longer needed shampoo (just like the internet said would happen). I tested body wash on one half of my body for a while and so no difference, so stopped that. I cut out conditioner when I cut off my long hair, and I use a dry-shave electric razor, so I never used shaving cream. Showers are now quite straightforward.

Car. I've always resisted having a car because I don't like driving, and ever since I lost the habit of riding in them during college, they make me sick, like I imagine an elf would get sick being caged in mankind's fell iron. This made me into an inconvenient moocher of rides when living in the Midwest, but since moving to California and especially San Francisco, I've found that relying on longboards, Uber, Caltrain, BART, and infrequent rented cards is far cheaper and slightly more convenient than owning a car. I'm not saying that everyone can get away without a car or even that it's an uncommon thing in a city, but the math on all those Uber trips surprised me.

Health insurance. Good health insurance plans are fantastically expensive. Bad ones are still expensive and only useful in a tiny range of situations. Paying out of pocket for healthcare costs is simpler and cheaper than going through insurance for anything that's not really expensive. Statistically speaking, health insurance is a bad bet that just protects you when you're not liquid enough to cover an early price shock before you've saved enough money in your career to pay for things like major surgeries (most of which are hopefully not so time critical that you can't fly to another country where these things don't cost hundreds of thousands of dollars). I think that one way or another I could scrounge up the money to pay for anything I could imagine happening to me, so I'll make the good bet instead. (At least until the tax for not having insurance costs around as much as buying the cheapest insurance.)

Retirement account. Retirement? At 65? That's 2050, which also happened to be my rough 50%-probable we're-all-extinct-or-transhuman-by-now year estimate based on the The Uncertain Future exercise. If I end up having any use for lots of extra money I've saved up, it's probably going to happen before everything I know is totally different due to technological change. So go ahead and tax me, but keep me liquid.

Breaks. Lots of people I know like doing Pomodoros, where you work for 25 minutes and then take a break for five minutes. They are more productive while doing this. I tried Pomodoros a couple times and just lost around ten minutes of work each hour. Perhaps I've built a habit of not needing breaks. When I did my 120-hour work week, I didn't take any breaks except to eat, and it was wonderful. People say, but watch out for RSI! I used to have problems with RSI. That was inconvenient to say the least, so I decided to stop having RSI problems. I don't know the link, but every time it comes up on Hacker News, some commenters point out this book some guy wrote about how RSI and other chronic pain is often (not always) a manifestation of stress in places where you would expect to feel pain. That is, expect to maybe get RSI -> get RSI. So inversely, expect to not get RSI anymore -> no more RSI. Worked for me, anyway. I didn't read the book, just heard the idea, and that was enough.

Television. When I would watch TV, it gets stuck in my head, like pop music, and then in my idle moments I think about the plot of what I just watched instead of what's important to me (like my relationships and my startup). It's also unproductive, and I find the less entertainment I consume, the less I feel like consuming (and if I'm going to entertain, why, it's going to be social!) So I just don't watch shows. I cave every now and then and watch something with Chloe, because she really likes to share culture with me, but usually I make her trade me something awesome, like playing the piano to me to lull me to sleep a bunch of times.

News. I have much more relevant things to think about than what's going on with people I don't know. It's rare that anyone even notices that I don't follow news, I'm happier without it, and it saves time and mental focus. I set myself a cron job to read exactly ten minutes of Hacker News a night so that I don't miss things that actually affect my work, and that's plenty (and one of the least pleasant parts of my day).

Coat. I grew up in Minnesota and somehow got the idea that wearing a winter coat in winter was inconvenient (since you had to then put it in a locker), so I just would toughen up. After all, you can survive any level of cold for fifteen minutes while waiting for a bus with just a sweatshirt, right? Right! I thus became nearly immune to cold when outdoors, even to the point of walking around barefoot most of the winter. Handy! (I later decided to try not complaining about heat for a summer, which was very hot, and I surprisingly turned from a total heat wimp to also immune to outdoor heat.) Strangely enough, I still need it to be warm indoors and especially when sleeping.

Many possessions. I limit myself to 99 possessions, as you probably know.

Shoes. Since moving to the city, I wear shoes a lot more than I used to, since Chloe freaks out when I walk barefoot in urban areas ("it's just dirty!") and because they won't let you in Proper Establishments without Proper Fetters. But I never want to, and if I'm in a chill zone like college or Central America, I never have to. Do my feet get injured? No. Dirty? No more than shoes would, and I clean my feet, unlike my shoes. Cold? No. What about glass? I'll walk on some if you want to see--it's fine. Barefoot is just more comfortable.

Worrying. During Skritter, I developed a saying to reassure George that the business was going to be totally fine and to persuade Scott that whatever hijinks we were about to pull would be sooo safe. The saying: "Nothing bad ever happens." I started writing down times when people would worry about something bad happening, and then when I had enough data points, show them the list of things they had worried about in the past and whether they actually happened, and if they did, whether it had actually been bad. It was close enough to true to say that I was always right and that worrying was pointless. I had realized this and stopped worrying long ago, after I cured myself of being a creature of pitiful worry and hopelessness. It was strange to me for a while that other people still worried about things--after all, wasn't the stress of worrying worse than whatever small preventative effect the worrying might have? Yes. But I noticed that people worry much less after college, like they also have gotten over the small stuff (at least the people I know now).

That's my list. Reader, what common things do you find unnecessary in life?

Nick

Hacking on CodeCombat, a multiplayer programming game for learning to code. Mastermind behind Skritter, the most powerful Chinese character learning app.

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