The start of a new year is a good time to evaluate the things that add the most value to our lives and to purge the things that don’t. For me, living in a space of 132 square feet in an off-road RV with no home base means I’m constantly reassessing what I have space for and striving for less excess. I’m not saying that you should hop right on the minimalist train, but nevertheless, there is some strong evidence that decreasing the amount of stuff in our lives can be a positive thing, both psychologically and neurologically.
BETTER HEALTH THROUGH LESS
Living in a 132 square foot space means I am less likely to follow my natural inclination to accumulate stuff, and the result has had a profound impact on my health. I’ll let you in on a secret. I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a pretty significant autoimmune hypothyroid condition in which the immune system launches an attack on the tiny little organ that controls metabolism, body temperature, muscle strength and more. It also shares a pretty tight relationship with stress and the nervous system. My system goes haywire when I don’t take care of myself and keep my stress levels at bay. Simplifying my life and making home in a converted military truck has been the best thing I’ve ever done, though initially it wasn’t easy.
In May 2016, when we decided to embark on this journey of traveling full-time, I was faced with paring down what was essentially the essence of my life. That was a rough month for me. Suddenly, I had to choose what things would ultimately enhance my experience of life rather than just pacify a fleeting moment of immediate gratification. Easier said than done. I singlehandedly made it the most stressful time of my life, attaching phony meaning to what I thought were significant items I couldn’t seem to let go of. We all have our issues. Buying the same shirt in every color because I can’t make a decision is mine. (I take after my mother).
One article at a time, I finally did it, and I haven’t looked back. After 8 months of life with less stuff and waking up to the sun in some of our favorite places, people say I look calmer, happier, more at ease. It shows up in the way I smile and in the more relaxed way I carry my body. I know I feel less weighed down, I sleep better and my thyroid hormones have finally discovered what equilibrium looks like. I feel like I have more time in my day to focus my thoughts on where we will go and what adventures we will have next. My entire wardrobe now fits into about 2 cubic feet so choosing what to wear is a pretty simple exercise. Now, before anything enters our truck home, I really have to consciously evaluate: “Does this make my life better?” And if the answer is yes, it will find a spot in our humble 132 square feet. I personally value good food, so the bulk of the space in our cabin is dedicated to cooking utensils and delicious pantry staples, a fine trade in exchange for less clothing and the typical girl’s trunkful of beauty/toiletry paraphernalia.
MORE ISN’T BETTER. BETTER IS BETTER.
Yes, our truck looks more formidable than your run-of-the-mill-RV. The 48” tires and extra garage in the back do make it seem like a whole lot of space for a couple trying to live small. The reality? When we decided to pare down to our essentials, our list included items of gear for all the things we wanted to DO in our life on the road. We didn’t just need wheels to get us to cool places, including Patagonia and Alaska; we needed to bring our bikes, our paddleboards and the things that added to our level of experience. We trimmed the fat from our belongings down with the intention that more isn’t better, BETTER is better. Good warm clothing, good gear and the ability to make good food all made the cut.
MINIMALIST AS A SPECTRUM
So are we minimalist? The word has become so overused and trite. While I do advocate for living small and lessening excess consumption, I certainly don’t believe you should suffer or deprive yourself! I get a lot of criticism from hard-core minimalists that I’m not really suffering enough to be minimal. I believe this is missing the point. One, considering oneself a minimalist is already setting up a certain expectation that requires measurement. Since everyone’s priorities vary, there’s no quantifiable way to say that the ways I have simplified my life should be the same as yours. Minimalism is more of a spectrum, really. (Think Henry David Thoreau on one hand, Donald Trump on the other). Myself, I have found that I get an intensely greater appreciation out of the fewer things I own today than I did when I lived in a house and had hundreds more items. Just simplify your life a little bit at a time – let go of what you don’t absolutely need and reap your own rewards.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH ALL THAT STUFF?
So often, we keep climbing the ladder of wealth and accumulation until we’re too embedded to realize that we don’t even want to play the game. We wake up one day and realize that the stuff we’ve worked so hard to attain doesn’t really make us any happier. In fact, it often poisons our ability to perceive what’s really important. It is said that the average person has hundreds of thousands of unique items in their home, and bigger homes = more stuff. Whether we want to or not, we fill the space we have. I don’t know about you, but for me, this causes immediate stress (and ultimately triggers my endocrine system to backfire on me). What do you DO with all that STUFF?! The decorations? The extra dishes? All the latest electronics? The yard art? The bazillion t-shirts? The crap from the impulse-buy line? The extra bottles of potions you’ll never use but they were buy-two-get-one-free?
Whatever your flavor of “stuff,” it’s likely you have to research it, bargain hunt for it, store it, feed it, clean it, repair it, replace it, fuel it, buy a bigger house for it, etc. etc. Is it all worth it?
THE PRICE OF EVERYTHING IS THE AMOUNT OF LIFE YOU EXCHANGE FOR IT
Being a more conscious consumer is uniquely personal and requires you to dig deep into your typical buying patterns. If what you buy and how you spend your earnings truly makes you happy, then who am I to argue? My partner, Martin, likes to remind me that the price of everything is the amount of life you exchange for it. We trade minutes of our lives working so we can buy things. What kind of person are you? Do you value experiences or things? If your spending habits and collections of things are incongruent with that foundation, you may have some work to do. An example: If you really dream of traveling full-time and seeing the world, then you’re probably coming up empty if, instead of working toward that end, you’ve been filling your tank full of trinkets and televisions and gadgets. Similarly, if you think you need to immediately live in your van or truck and forsake all of your possessions, that may be a bit overkill if you really value being able to entertain or have guests over to a warm and inviting home.
Instead, I would argue that our choices of what to surround ourselves with are simply a direct reflection of the things we hold most dear. We can’t expect that recipe to be the same for everybody. What we can do is try to be more conscious of our consumption, spending our dollars on the things that make our lives better and letting go of the things that don’t. Letting go can help you reframe your priorities, get unstuck, and probably do wonders for your health. Get the best your money can buy, get one of them, and enjoy the hell out of it. Life is too short to be a slave to your belongings. Your things should enhance your experience, not detract from it. Start the year off with a little purge. Ask yourself if the things that surround you are amplifying your life and if the answer is no, break out the garbage bags and get to your nearest donation center. Your healthcare budget just may thank you.
Bethany and Martin are documenting all their travels on twoifoverland.com. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in minimalist living!