Living More With a Whole Lot Less

While browsing through Vimeo’s “Staff Picks” a few days ago, I happened across the following highly improbable phrase, instantly deserving of inclusion in my “Humans Are Endlessly Interesting” file (which seems perpetually filled to bursting):

Richard is the fascinating story of a travelling piano tuner who chooses to live outdoors.

I’ve always loved piano tuners. The white-mustachioed, soft-spoken fellow who stopped by the house to attend to our beloved baby grand was a fantastic combination of patience, precision, and musicality. I still remember him spending hours hunched over the keys, making inaudible (to me) adjustments ad infinitum, and finishing off with a burst of Bach just to make sure everything was in melodic order. Piano tuners are such interesting people.

The “Richard” mentioned above is no exception. Meet Richard Roberts, who’s been caring for acoustic pianos “in London for over ten years, and previously in Oxford and Portsmouth for ten years before that.” Also, he’s homeless, and intentionally so.

The long term goal of my lifestyle experiment is to find my own way to balance modern life with respect for our planet, in a lifestyle that’s both physically and mentally edifying and that still enables me to make my own contribution to the future of our race. I’m only consuming 10% of the energy and resources that I used to, and I want to keep the pressure on until I’m only consuming 1%, whilst still getting on with every project I feel is important.

On his blog, Roberts details some of the challenges of his Great Adventure (which he began back in December, 2001), such as packing and traveling as lightly as possible, sleeping by the Thames without a sleeping bag, and the under-appreciated value of a place to shower. (That last topic finds its way into the Vimeo clip, rendering it a touch more…revealing of Roberts than is strictly necessary. Be careful out there, people.)

I’ve always been drawn to these “Making Our Over-Sized Lives Human-Sized Again” pieces. Often, there’s something just a bit extreme in them, but I’m not a fellow who suffers much from being overly extreme; quite the opposite, in fact. And I think there’s something wonderful in the material detachment and return to simplicity these sorts of projects encourage. My own family size (and accompanying obligations) make it impractical/imprudent for me — for which Sarah is doubtless deeply grateful — so I must (or is that “get to?”) admire from afar without suffering from the actual consequences of said detachment or simplicity.

But I’m glad someone’s doing it, even if I can’t.

That being said, the most interesting part of the piece might actually be Roberts’ suggestion that a mathematically-tuned piano won’t sound as good — there’s something about the human ear that demands a bit more nuance and is not entirely quantifiable. I love that idea. (And besides, isn’t that sort of the same point Richard’s making with his own nomadic life?)


Attribution(s): All artwork, publicity images, and stills are the property of England Your England and all respective creators and/or distributors.

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About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • RAnn

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  • Christian

    “Child-free”…what isn’t possible?

    • Joseph Susanka

      Fair enough, Christian. At the same time, many of the folks who fall into that “child-free” category are interested in living with a whole lot more, not less.

  • Maggie Goff

    I could never be as bare bones as he is in his lifestyle. I’m physically not able. I do find as I’m getting older (67) that my priorities have drastically changed and I am content with fewer possessions.

    • Joseph Susanka

      I, too, could never be as bare-bones, Maggie, though my reasons are less physical and more closely connected to my “state-in-life.” (Also, my attachment to unnecessary material possessions stand in the way.)

      At the same time, I think it’s interesting to note that Richard himself is unclear on how long he’s going to pursue this way of life. He mentions the fact that he’s trying to pay off school debts, which would suggest a somewhat natural conclusion to the “experiment.” And he doesn’t really seem to be advocating the same approach to “The World At Large.” But he does recognize that his homeless time gives him a perspective on what he actually needs (and all the things he’s told he needs, but he now realizes he does not).

      “Content with fewer possessions” is something we can aim for no matter our status or lifestyle.