This book originated with a somewhat angry question. It came from a reader of Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, my previous book about living in a twelve-foot-by-twelve-foot off-grid cabin in North Carolina. “It’s easy,” she wrote, “to find minimalism, joy, connection to nature, and abundant time in a shack in the woods. But how the hell are the rest of us supposed to stay sane in our busy modern lives?”
I received a hundred variations of this question in emails, after lectures, and during television and radio interviews about Twelve by Twelve. I always answered by saying I was living 12 x 12 values… but in Queens, New York — the home to which I returned after my time in the cabin. But as each year passed, the reader’s doubt increasingly became my own as overwork, material clutter, and the lack of contact with nature — “civilization,” in short — brought me to a point of extreme unhappiness in Queens. Eventually, I too doubted it was possible to live 12 x 12 in a city, and I felt an urgent need to decamp far from urban life.
Not so fast. As I reached this point, my newlywed wife, Melissa, was offered an excellent job that demanded we stay put in New York City, and I suddenly had no choice but to figure out how to take what I’d learned in the 12 x 12 — about the Leisure Ethic, connecting to nature, and living simply — and somehow make it work in the real-world context of a marriage and two careers.