Starting life barefoot

If you've always worn shoes, the idea of living without them may seem a little daunting.

The first step

Henry Moore's King & Queen enjoying RHS Wisley.
Leave your shoes at home, or in the boot of the car. You are now barefooter, a person who can live without shoes.

It's natural that you feel uneasy in a unfamiliar situation, but that will quickly pass. Look confident. Feel confident. You're not doing anything wrong! Quite the opposite in fact. The sky will not fall if you just go about your life the same as ever. Everything will continue to be the same as ever except you will now be able to feel where you are! Don't worry about whether anyone else has noticed, or their misguided opinions. A few people will be surprised and ask questions, but after a few months their questions peter out and everything is normal. Actually, Lots of people do understand and will envy you, but they are not self-confident enough to stand out from the flock.

Too much too soon

New barefooters are at risk of blisters and scratches as their soles are soft. It takes time for your feet to recover from wearing shoes. How long varies considerably, but typically between three months and a year. The pressure and gentle abrasion of daily life is what toughens them up, so the best way to start is to walk a few miles each day on relatively-smooth hard dry surfaces. Damp skin tends to blister, while dry skin tends to develop callosities. Skin in the toughest thing in the human body, and your feet can naturally become tough enough for almost anything.

Knee pain or back-ache

Shoe wears (aka ‘shoddies’) typically take longer strides and thump their heels into the floor, jarring their knees with every step they take. If you continue to do this, you may find your knees will hurt! Barefooters typically take slightly shorter strides and roll to allow the whole of their foot to touch the ground before applying weight. Not only is this easier on the joints, but allows you to instinctively react and adjust your weight should you feel anything dangerous. Temporary back-ache can occasionally arise from the improvement in your posture if you've always worn raised heels.

Understanding what you can feel

Can you tell a green field
from a cold steel rail?
A smile through a veil?
Wish you were here.
Pink Floyd.
It may take a little time to learn to understand what you feel. A profoundly deaf person, on removing metaphorical leather stoppers from their ears for the first time, would probably be overwhelmed by an incomprehensible cacophony of painfully loud sound. They would not immediately comprehend the meaning of speech or the understand the rich beauty of music. It takes time for the brain to adjust; to block out what is irrelevant and focus on what is important.

It also takes time for the soles to recover their natural strength and sensitivity, and the “painful” to become interesting. People who live barefoot rarely experience pain (quite the opposite in fact) or they probably wouldn't do it!

First Aid

Everyone has the occasional mishap, but I've never needed the services of a medic in the eleven years I've lived 100% barefoot. However soft new feet are obviously more prone to the rare thorn or shard, particularly in rural environments (with more gorse and brambles). After a year or so this will become increasingly rare as your feet become tougher. You'll also get better at avoiding hazards, and become experienced enough to remove the odd thorn or shard quickly before they become a bigger problem. And that's the secret: If you feel something sticking in your foot, stop and remove immediately - before it's pushed in too far and while there is something still sticking out to grab hold of. It's useful to keep a pin in your pocket (or card-wallet). If it can't be removed then it usually hurts for a few weeks. The body then naturally forms a small hard cyst around the object, which slowly works it's way to the surface to be ejected after a number of months.

So there are two things that are advisable to keep in your wallet; a small safety pin and a sticking plaster (just in case you kick a tree-stump or stone). The plaster should be a fabric one, with seriously strong adhesive, that won't fall off after a few minutes in the wet. (eg: Steroplast premium heavy-weight fabric)

Shoes are tools

Barefoot living is about happiness. While a few barefooters do not own shoes, most exercise healthy pragmatism. Shoes are tools. Steelies are required for building sites. Motorcycle boots protect your ankles. If you want to wear ten-pin bowling shoes to slide as you release the ball, that's reasonable although after going barefoot for six months you will probably be desperate to get rid of them as soon as you can! There are really very few situations where shoes are necessary, but sometimes they can be useful in hazardous environments.

Hygienic at Home

Although short excusions from the home often don't make feet particularly dirty, many barefooters keep a few things outside the back door, or in the car. For example: Everyone has their own routine, and their own standards. What's right is whatever works for you.

Visiting strangers' homes

It's good to be prepared. Everyone is master of their own homes, and people have varying expectations. You know your friends. Those with dusty wooden floors are usually less particular than owners of new creme carpets (which they would rather everyone hover over.) Just ask the home owner what they would prefer. You can keep a flannel in your car or hand-bag, or ask the home owner for use of the floor-cloth, or visit the downstairs toilet if there is one near the front door.

Skin Care

Obviously is advisable to keep your skin in good condition, as that is all that's between you and a world of pathagens. The edges of your feet may be prone to cracks as your soles get thicker. The best way to avoid cracks is a weekly treatment of any foot cream that contains urea as an active ingredient. (eg: “Flexitol Heel Balm” is 25% urea.)

Public Toilets

Please see the Frequently Asked Questions page.

At work

Working barefoot is not usually a problem in smaller companies, particularly if there is a “casual” dress code. You can keep a professional appearance by keeping your nails clean and in good condition, and dressing in a coordinated fashion, choosing clothes that do not look too out of place with your choice of footwear (eg: neat brown chinos for men).

The hardest part is the transition period, gently adjusting your colleagues expectations. If you are uncertain, start off with baby steps. Start by kicking off your shoes under the desk, and walking around the office barefoot for a few weeks. Then go out to lunch barefoot... Before you know it you will not be wearing shoes to work at all, although you may need to keep a pair in your desk drawer: Some company directors may insist that you wear shoes when you meet their customers as you are not just representing yourself, but the image of their company. This is compromise you may have to make, at least to start with. When they get used to seeing you barefoot all the time, they often to cease to notice.

If your director challenges you, things that you can bring up if you have to include: If you have to the conversation with a manager, it may be better to have it with the owner who is used to making high-level strategic decisions rather than a middle manager who may think that his boss will look down on him if employees are allowed to be unconventional.

Daily life

Shoes are not required at all for the average daily routine. Taking the kids to school, doing the shopping, going to church or for a pint at your local. There are no legal or safety issues.

• Family:  If you need an easy way of convincing extended family that you have not lost your marbles, I recommend giving them a copy of The Barefoot Book by Dr. Daniel Howell (an excellent birthday / Christmas present for anyone!) It does not matter whether they read it cover to cover; Just having a respectable looking book by someone with a PhD seems to do the job.

• Schools:  Schools, as part of our community, usually just accept everyone as they are. When my children were at primary school, I used to walk them to school every day, whatever the weather. I have attended countless parents' meetings and school plays without anyone batting an eye-lid. During my four years as a school governor, I undertook all manor of duties & training. Only once was I asked to dress up (wear shoes) when representing the school to a rather formal visiting party. (As this was the only time in six years, I willingly made an exception.)

• Churches have never been anything other than welcoming, and some older churches have really lovely stone floors! (Is envy a sin?)

• Restaurants: Over the last decade I have always found restaurants very welcoming (with the exception of Sushi Samba Heron Tower who claimed a dress-code). However the barefoot community generally regard higher-class establishments as the most welcoming, particularly if you are dressed neatly. Pubs very occasionally claim broken glass is a danger, but are usually easy to reason with.

• Doormen: Security guards are not generally hired for their love and tolerance, or knowledge of health & safety. and often need to stroke their over-inflated egos. If you are visiting anywhere with a doorman, it's wise to have a light-weight pair of sandals to hand, just to get through the door. They can be kicked off two minutes later.

Safety

The most dangerous place is probably the home (the kitchen to be specific - a place that shoddies are quite likely to go barefoot anyway!) However even your home will become safer as you become more self-aware and learn to walk less forcefully.


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