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Freedom From Shoes Is A Lot Like The Freedom From The American Dream

Posted by on Aug 4, 2011 | 10 Comments

Shelly and I have been on the road for 17 days.  For those that aren’t familiar with the story, here’s the incredibly short version:

We quit our high school teaching jobs, got rid of most of our possessions, and are now traveling around the country in a travel trailer with our three kids and niece.  The goal: Seek out new running adventures, teach others about barefoot and minimalist shoe running, and generally have fun! We are, in essence, rejecting the fundamental idea of the so-called “American Dream.”

Anyway, the entire process has been a lot like my early days as a barefoot runner.  It is incredibly liberating, but the new-found freedom feels weird.  There’s a definite adjustment period.  So much time was spent in shoes, the feeling of the air on bare skin felt almost… naughty.  It was as if I was breaking one of the fundamental laws of our society.   That feeling was reinforced by the reaction of others.

Some were supportive and motivated to ditch their shoes themselves, but most people seem to be a bit skeptical.

I got the distinct feeling the skepticism was fueled by the cognitive dissonance created when others secretly desired to lose their shoes, but had spent A LOT of time convincing themselves they needed shoes.  Other skepticism was fueled by good ole’ fashioned rule-following. After all, society tells us we have to wear shoes.  Supposedly.

The entire barefoot experience is hauntingly similar to the experience of our new adventure.  Just like society tells us we need to wear shoes, society also tells us we need to settle down, work hard at an uninspiring job until we’re past our physical prime, and achieve happiness and self-worth by purchasing material goods like houses, cars, and espresso machines.  White picket fences.  Minivans.  The American Dream.

Just like the feeling of air on the naked foot, the feeling of freedom of both time and location is weird because it is such a deviation from the “norm.”  This struck me earlier this morning.  We have tremendous freedom to move where we want, when we want.  Our daily schedule is composed of whatever we feel like doing on that particular day.  It feels… naughty. It feels like we’re breaking THE fundamental law of our society.

The parallels between the experience of barefoot running and our new nomadic running-based lifestyle are striking.  That’s not surprising as both are unorthodox endeavors that seem strange to most.  I can’t help but think barefoot running was the gateway drug that led to us seeking out other unorthodox ideas.

There are other similarities, like the need to adapt and exercise patience.  When beginning barefoot running, the body isn’t used to the new stresses.  Bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles need time to strengthen after years of dormancy.  When living in an RV, it takes time for the family to develop a new routine.  New schedules need to be developed, dancing around each other in a limited physical space requires a new skill set, and you acclimate to the frequent subtle rocking when others move around.

Barefoot running and freedom from foot coffins gave our running an element of excitement and joy.  So far, our new lifestyle has provided the same sense of excitement and joy.  There are negatives, but a cost/benefit analysis definitely indicates a net “win.”

For those of you that have made a jump to barefoot and minimalist shoe running, I would highly recommend playing around the idea of simplifying elements of your life.  You don’t have to give away all your possessions, quit your job, and move into a travel trailer.  You can start by committing to small baby steps.  Here are a few exercises that may be worthwhile:

  • Get rid of extra unused clothing.  Go to your closet.  Turn all hangers around so they’re facing the opposite direction (hook on the backside of the rail.)  When you wear an article of clothing and wash it, return it to the rail normally.  At the end of one month, you’ll know which clothes you’ve worn and which clothes you haven’t by the hanger position.  Donate half of the clothes that were untouched.
  • Do the “35 items” challenge.  Each day for one week, select five items around your house that you do not use.  Place them in a pile somewhere in your house.  At the end of the week, donate the pile to a local charity.
  • Do a week-long “zero growth” activity.  If you buy anything during the week, you must get rid of something of approximately the same size and/or value.  The goal is to stop accumulating new crap.
  • Go on a “TV holiday” for one week.  Disconnect all televisions in your house and store them in a safe place for one week.  This is usually a tough one; we convince ourselves we HAVE to watch our favorite shows, keep up with the news, or whatever else we tell ourselves to maintain our dependence.  The goal is to force your family to find other activities to pass the time.  It really is MUCH easier than most people expect.  😉

If you’ve tried barefoot running, you know the freedom is absolutely amazing.  The same concept applies to life in general.  I don’t know of anyone that experimented with the simplification route and regretted the decision.  Even if the endeavor is limited to the above activities, you’ll find a greater appreciation for your current lifestyle.

For those of you with kids, this is an excellent method to curb the “entitlement” trap many children fall into.  Kids come to expect all the conveniences and distractions of our modern society without fully appreciating the work that accompanies such a lifestyle.  These activities are great empathy-building exercises.

Would these activities benefit you and your family?  There’s a simple way to gauge this.  The more repulsive the ideas seem, the more benefit you and your family will likely get.

Give it a shot!  Let me know how it works out.






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  1. cleansing « Growing Laufey
    August 8, 2011

    […] we moved them all.  One of Tim’s favorite blogs, Barefoot Running University, recently posted some tips on simplifying elements in your life, and this is the kind of stuff I am loving right […]

  2. Brant
    August 5, 2011

    We want to be able to fit all of our belonging into a 20 foot Uhaul truck the rest of our lives. Less things = more time to do what you want.

  3. corey
    August 4, 2011

    “Do the “35 items” challenge. Each day for one week, select five items around your house that you do not use. Place them in a pile somewhere in your house. At the end of the week, donate the pile to a local charity.”

    Yeah that isn’t a good idea man. People do have tools and whatnot that get used a lot for only a short period of time each year.

  4. Pete Kemme
    August 4, 2011

    Jason, I ran in my father’s socks today with Connie. I forgot my Aqua Socks, but wasn’t confident enough to go totally barefoot, so I grabbed an ol’ bare of white socks for protection for a 4 mile run.

    What a great feeling! I am totally transitioning. It is not just barefoot crosstraining anymore, but true barefoot running. Thank you so much for your guidance…and for the patience.

  5. Sally Hulbert
    August 4, 2011

    Amen and Amen!! That is the way we all should live!

  6. Sally Hulbert
    August 4, 2011

    Amen and Amen!!The way we all should live!!

  7. Sir Stephen
    August 4, 2011

    Freedom from American Slavery is the Goal!

    Quit watching TV. Give it away.
    It delivers only bad news and advertising.

    Pay off all credit cards.
    You spend too much using them anyway.

    Quit signing contracts which obligate you.
    Long term contracts are misery.

    Quit borrowing money.
    The banks loans are shackles and you are
    their prisoner.

    Quit buying “stuff” for two weeks per month.
    Buy food instead and go for a daily walk.

    Stay out of fast food joints.
    They will never deliver on their promises.

    Give up Sugar, Sugar water (POP), cakes, cookies, and anything with corn syrup.
    It will kill you. It is addictive.

  8. Rob
    August 4, 2011

    Yeah, I remember the days when I could fit all my worldly possessions into my Geo Metro. Sadly those days are long gone…

  9. I’ve Been Lazy/Busy, But… « barefootchuck
    August 4, 2011

    […] to: and check it […]

  10. John Jeffery
    August 4, 2011

    One of my favorite family traditions with our kids is that for every toy they receive at Xmas they choose one of their toys and we donate them to kids shelters, and the adults do the same. What really surprised me when we started was that the kids naturally chose really nice toys to give. Their natural generosity was the sweetest part of the experience. I’m with you on this post Jason. Somehow taking off my shoes has lent me a kind of momentum to the rest of my life for simplification. We’re watching your family’s adventures with total amazement. Hope to see you at the GR Naked foot 5k.