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The Joy of Bread and Tea

John Muir, the mountaineer and conservationist, apparently liked to camp with nothing but a loaf of bread and some tea leaves.

The most obvious question is "how?" He had no sleeping bag or tent; he slept on pine boughs. He had no matches; he made a fire by rubbing sticks together. He had no first-aid kit; he accepted that he might have to suffer through a wound or headache.

Additionally, according to historian Michael P. Cohen, "Muir never lived off the land. Since he wasn't a hunter or fisherman, he was frequently hungry."

But I think a more interesting question than "how?" is "why?"

Scottish Tea Bread. Image credit: Christina Cucina.

Why Did John Muir Do This?

Muir clearly had the ability to bring more than bread and tea. Yet he chose not to. Why is that? It's not comfortable to lie on pine boughs when a sleeping bag is available. It takes much longer to make a fire without matches. It's unpleasant to have an open wound. It feels good to be full.

It's impossible to know exactly what John Muir was thinking when he camped like this, but I think I can provide some insight, starting by looking at tiny homes.*

The Two Types of Tiny Homes

As I see it, there are two types of tiny homes: maximalist tiny homes and minimalist tiny homes. A maximalist tiny home is one that looks at the size of the home as a constraint, and tries to take full advantage of every inch. In this sort of tiny home, multi-use items are common. If you can't have any more space, why not maximize the space you do have?

On the other hand, a minimalist tiny home is one that looks at the size of the home as a guideline, and tries to be in the "spirit" of a tiny home. The idea is that we have a tiny home, so let's embrace the tininess. A minimalist tiny home uses what the owner needs** and basically nothing else. If you are in a tiny home, why not make it one?

A maximalist tiny home (though you can't tell). Image credit: Humble Homes.

The Argument for Minimalism

The argument for maximalist tiny homes is pretty clear: it has more useful stuff. But the argument for the minimalist is much less apparent. It's about the joy of having everything you need around yourself, and living with a certain level of simplicity. Money and additional resources don't make people happier long-term, after a certain surface level, and it feels good to be cleansed of these influences.

The Joy of Bread and Tea

Sometimes I'll take advantage of something that many less affluent people don't have, and I'll feel guilty.*** Minimalist tiny homes are a way to cleanse myself of that, to feel like I'm using only what I need, living a life of simplicity. There isn't an existing name for this feeling (that I know of), so I'm calling it the Joy of Bread and Tea (which can be shortened to JOBAT, I guess) in honor of John Muir.****


The reason I wasn't able to post last week was because I was on a backpacking trip. One of my favorite aspects of the trip was being able to gaze at the beautiful nature of the Emigrant Wilderness. But my favorite part was absolutely the Joy of Bread and Tea. It was incredible to have everything I needed on my back.

The Emigrant Wilderness. Image credit: Wikipedia.

If you look at the backpacking trip from a material standpoint, it was absolutely a colossal waste of my time. I walked with over 20 pounds on my back of relatively expensive gear that's less pleasant to use than normal gear. And where did my group walk? Right back to where we came. But in normal life, I don't experience the Joy of Bread and Tea. And despite the incessant insects, I was still happy throughout the trip.

Pack Pains

The flipside of this is that people, like me, who are big on the Joy of Bread and Tea can have a hard time dealing with the opposite. For example, while I was packing for the aforementioned backpacking trip, it didn't make me feel happy. The "uses" felt extravagant, ephemeral and useless. But enough with the negativity. It filled me with a desire to go camping with nothing but bread and tea. I think this is what John Muir felt.

Now for some wrap-up. When we're done, you can go somewhere else on these great tubes of the Internet, such as the Curated section of my blog, my all-time favorite YouTube video, or xkcd. Or wherever else you want; I can't control you. But first, let's finish this puppy.

An Official Definition

The Joy of Bread and Tea is the positive sensation of having only a minimalist selection of items around you.

Final Thoughts

We know that belongings don't generally make us happier. But the lack of belongings can. It can be great to possess only what you need: that is why John Muir went out with nothing but bread and tea, and that is why you should go into life keeping in mind the Joy of Bread and Tea; being one with nature and the world around you. Find your bread and tea, and embrace it.


*Two notes on tiny homes:

1. The tiny homes I'm referring to are the kind on wheels, like RVs.

2. As you may know, I do debate, and I was in this one debate round where I brought up tiny homes as a housing solution. I mangled the facts a bit, and my opponents misrepresented them, and by the end the consensus was that tiny homes were 10 square feet, low-quality, and could be stacked on top of each other, yet still commanded a price of $300,000. I just had to share that anecdote.

**I'm using "needs" liberally here, by the way. If you have a minimalist tiny home, and cooking is a main passion of your life, then you can have a cooking station in your tiny home. My point is that, for instance, a maximalist tiny home might have a couch and a bed, or a couch that folds into a bed. Meanwhile, the minimalist tiny home just has a bed, or just has a couch.

Also, when looking at needs this way, the fact that John Muir brought tea leaves when he could have brought many other more useful second items makes more sense. He just really liked tea.

***It probably makes more sense to feel grateful here. Not indulging won't make someone else have the ability to indulge. However, while I can force myself to feel something on one level, my real, instinctual feelings will ooze out eventually.

****Other names I was considering:

- The Tiny Home Feeling

- The Road Trip Feeling

- Simplicitude

If you have an opinion on the best name of the bunch, or a new name idea, please tell me.


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