This guest post is by Matt Madeiro, a modern day caveman who writes at MattMadeiro.com about his journey to live a healthier and simpler life by experimenting with the everyday life we've grown accustomed to. Take it away Matt! 2011 has been wild.
Call it a wild experiment in minimalism -- a constant refinement of what I need to survive as I bumble my way across the USA and a never-ending series of questions about what I can cut to try and save some coin as I do.
The process has brought a few surprises. It's also brought some perks. More than anything, though, it has offered a new perspective: do we really need all this stuff we have? Do we really need every modern amenity we've been raised to think we can't live without?
The last seven months suggest not. The happy, healthy -- and cheap! -- life I've been living suggest there's a lot of value in passing a critical eye over the commonplace, in taking a serious look at everything we spend our money on without a second thought. I'll warn you now: these discoveries might seem a bit uncomfortable to start with, but sit tight and put on your experimental cap. You can pinch your nose, too. This time, at least, I'll let it slide.
Ready for this? Let's talk about the bathroom.
Let's be clear: I smell wonderful. In the last six months of employing the two tricks below, I've never had a single complaint about odor, and likewise have even received multiple compliments on how smooth my skin is.
Do me a favor and don't think too much about that last part. Let's get started, shall we?
Smooth Skin Without Soap
It's okay to wrinkle your nose.
It's a sign of the times, I think, that soap has hit mandatory status. Call it a hint at our germ phobia that we obsess over being sparkly clean every hour of the day, scouring our skin every time we shower in the name of good personal hygiene.
Do we need soap, though? Do we need bottles upon bottles of pleasant-smelling goop? That colorful bar sitting in your shower might not normally raise red flags, but there's an alternative perspective worth considering the next time you sling a whole bag of bars into your shopping cart.
Water is the ultimate cleanser.
That's pretty obvious to some, but it's a point worth framing in the context of your daily cleansing. Why, when a fair number of us spend our days indoors, do we rub and scrub like we're covered in dirt? Why, when a simple rinse is more than enough to keep our skin clean, do we insist on throwing products into the mix?
Try a little experiment: for one week, skip out on soap. Run your fingers along your skin to make sure the water spreads around, but otherwise don't bother to break out your usual bar or body wash. If you're worried about a certain smell wafting out from your armpits, don't fret -- rub your fingers against said pit for ten or fifteen seconds and I think you'll be pleasantly! surprised by the cleanliness that follows.
The end result? Smooth, clean skin without any need for chemicals. Given how much we shell out for body products over the course of our lives, I'd call that a win. Given too that the dry skin and occasional acne I dealt with have both vanished since skipping the soap, I'd say there are some pretty compelling reasons to experiment with a soap-free routine.
Shampoo Might Actually Be a Sham
Ever heard of "no-poo"?
Unfortunate title aside, the no-shampoo movement has gained quite a bit of steam over the last few years. A number of early adopters forwent the bottle for health reasons, citing concerns over ingredients like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate that come under fire seemingly every week. For the more economic-minded amongst us, however, the truth about conventional shampoo might be even easier to swallow: it isn't necessary in any sense of the word. If you're the type to throw down coin on fancy formulas, too, it can weight pretty heavily on the wallet.
Speaking from personal experience, my reliance on shampoo came with some pretty significant drawbacks. I'd wake up every morning with a head full of grease, necessitating daily shampoo bombing just to try and control the mess. I accepted that as normal for a time before starting to ask a simple question: what in the world did people do before shampoo? How in the world did we survive without it?
The answer? You've heard it before: water is the ultimate cleanser.
For the sake of clarity, though, let's talk a bit about what shampoo does. When you squeeze it onto your scalp, shampoo strips your hair completely of its natural oils, often to the point where you need a conditioner just to reintroduce some moisture. As an occasional thing, this wouldn't be too problematic, but your scalp does a funny thing when you consistently take away its natural oil: it adapts. It produces more. It produces much more oil than it should to try and compensate for the chemical cleansing, and it eventually starts doing do so on a daily basis in anticipation of further shampooing.
My daily dose of grease, in hindsight, wasn't so surprising. I'd call it a natural response to my daily insistence on shampooing. The ultimate goal, here, is some semblance of normalcy: the ability to shampoo your hair only when the natural buildup of oil becomes too much, and the ability to clean it without throwing down a bunch of coins on some fancy product.
If you're interested in trying no-poo, I invite you to check out my latest eBook, Roots, which discusses it in full. The process takes a few weeks to a few months, depending on how often you shampoo now, but there's one trick you can employ while starting to space out your shampooing: baking soda. Buy a box for a buck, dump some into a cup, and mix it with water whenever you hop into the shower.
You'll be pleasantly surprised when you rub that mixture into your hair: smooth, clean hair courtesy of a gentler cleaning than regular shampoo can offer. You'll be extra surprised when you realize that a single box of baking soda can last for months, cutting down pretty significantly on how much you would normally spend for shampoo.
If you're the daily shampoo type, much as I was, you'll be in for a treat. Your hair's natural oil will, in time, start building at a far more relaxed pace, necessitating a baking soda rinse once every four or five days instead of the usual daily dose. Keep your hair short enough and you might not need the baking soda at all, relying on water alone to keep your scalp happy and clean.
The Big Takeaway
Like I said: 2011 has been wild.
This is experimental stuff, admittedly, and no doubt a little off-putting to anyone otherwise comfortable with their cleansing routine. Skipping out on soap and shampoo for these last six months of travel just drove home, personally speaking, how easy it is to live without them, and how a little deviation from the norm can translate to money saved in the long term.
Why not give it a shot? Your wallet will thank you, which is by far reason enough to ignore the strange looks you might get from anyone in the loop on your new way to bathe.
You There! What Could You Live Without?
Why not do a little experimentation of your own? Take a moment and think about what modern amenity you could live without. Are there any unnecessary products in your life that you've grown overly attached to?
Caleb and I want to hear from you in the comments. What could you live without?
So, what would you give the boot?