From house to car to camper–a series: What we can do without would surprise you

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When I wrote my initial blog entry “From House to Car in 2.6 Seconds,” I was not prepared for the interest this entry would generate. I am giving a bit of an introduction to the change of mindset that a move from consumerism to minimalism requires because 1) my mind is still getting used to the idea of downsizing, 2) I suspect many of you may not have known the option to live “tiny” existed. Or that it was feasible. Or that it could even be cool. What you may not realize, as I have not, is that you don’t really have to “go without”” in order to have a great quality of life. What does happen to your mind though, is that it gets “retrained” to think about what is truly necessary versus what we think of as “necessary.” For instance:

  1. I got rid of a bunch of clothes today because they won’t all fit in the small closet in my camper. I didn’t wear these clothes for a long time. I had no earthly use for them. I still had plenty to wear after getting rid of four big boxes and now those four big boxes are going to do other people good. Pros: I have less to wash, thus my laundromat loads will be cheaper. I kept what I REALLY liked.
  2. I don’t need a TV. I have Netflix on my 4 year old iPhone.
  3. I don’t need a phone contract. I got prepaid through Cricket for 30.00 a month with unlimited talk and text and 2G of data. What did I do with Facebook and Messenger? I deleted them off my phone because I have them on my iPhone, which I use for watching Netflix, email and Facebook. (I don’t use the iPhone as a phone anymore and I have never felt the need to upgrade to a thousand dollar iPhone X).
  4. I don’t need cable, or satellite. That saves me probably about 1200 a year.
  5. I don’t need WiFi. I can use WiFi for free at McDonald’s, Arby’s, Applebee’s, or just about any other public place including the public library. If I really want WiFi, especially in the winter when I might not want to go out in the cold I can add a prepaid hotspot to my phone to use for about 30 bucks a month instead of the traditional 75 and 80 dollars a month plus fees through other companies.
  6. I don’t even need to use electricity off the grid. I can, after a time, if I want, invest in solar panels for the top of my camper, and set it up to generate my own electricity for free.
  7. I don’t need the laundromat. I can, once I get on my feet a little better, get a portable washing machine that is compact, and drains in my camper sink and save myself the laundromat money. I can hang my clothes out to dry year round.
  8. I don’t need a bunch of food in my pantry or refrigerator. I can stock fresh meat and cheese and refrigerated goods a week at a time, and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables that don’t require refrigeration. I can stock dry goods like rice, flour, sugar and the like and make better meals instead of processed boxed meals. I have a CrockPot I can use. I can preserve food without refrigeration as well (canning, fruit jam, jelly, syrup, dehydration, etc). If I don’t have a ton of food to eat I won’t eat as much, and that’s just better all around. Better quality food and less of the junk.
  9. Don’t need to use a lot of propane. I used to spend hundreds filling the propane tank when I lived in the West. In a camper the propane tanks are small, and since I have electricity in the camper, it is not necessary for me to run the propane furnace. So it is a backup should it be extraordinarily cold. I can use an electric heater, and save the propane for cooking. The camper is such a small space it won’t take much to heat it, and I am taking the precaution of extra insulation, laying down rugs on the floor, covering the windows in the winter and laying black plastic on the roof to attract the sun in the winter.
  10. I don’t need to use full size shampoos, conditioners, and soaps. I started buying travel sizes for lotions, and shampoo bars instead of bottles. Shampoo bars are better for the environment as there is nothing to throw away. Ivory soap is biodegradable, and stackable! I threw out a bunch of products I haven’t even been using.

The time we really spend in our homes is minimal when you think about it. You are at work about a third of the time you are awake or more. When you are not at work, you are out with your kids, or out at the park, if the weather is nice, or you go out with friends. The time we spend at home tends to be in the evenings, before we go to sleep, and early morning before we go to work. Weekends we may spend all day at home, but you can see we don’t spend a lot of time in the house. Living in a camper due to the small space almost pushes me outside to tell the truth. It will be cozy when the weather is inclement, but I’ll be outside a lot of the time. Yet, the camper is large enough for company should someone visit me and need a bed. There’s an extra bed on the other end that folds up into a breakfast nook with a table. Neat, huh?

Granted, living tiny isn’t for everybody. Some just like their houses, and that’s quite all right. Living tiny appeals to me because I am so aware of how much time gets sapped away on Facebook, TV, video games, and working, and I find myself listening to other people who wish they had time to go to the beach, or time to read a book, or spend with someone they love. The start of living tiny for me is getting back to basics, and spending less time on technology (not giving it up altogether), and finding that I have time now that I am not distracted by TV or the need to be “entertained,” to read a book, or to write in my blog. Work is necessary, in order to live, but work will not define my life. I am doing what I love and I realize that, by writing here, and writing about rats, and I’ve never realized really that writing is what I love to do until I lost everything that was distracting me from seeing what I really love. Who I really love.

I feel like my imagination and my mind are waking up after a long sleep. I could have a garden in large pots. (I can’t dig up my lot). I could have a pallet garden. I can hang wind chimes. I can paint a scene on my camper…I can do some seriously cool interior design in my vintage camper--my mind is working out possibilities.

Why do we think we need to do what is expected of us? Go to school, graduate, go to college, get married, buy a house, pop out 2.2 kids, get old, retire, THEN go RVing? We think if we fail to achieve this illusory American dream we are somehow failures. I know I went through that for a long time as my finances didn’t seem to pick up at all and I felt I was underemployed in comparison to how highly educated I am. What if we are trained to believe if we don’t follow that line, don’t achieve what we are “supposed” to==what if we are TRAINED to believe we are failures?

Oh my darlings. You are not failures if you don’t have the house with the white picket fence and retirement enough to go to Florida and live in a condo. Don’t fail to live. Reducing my circumstances (which let us not forget I was FORCED into), has slowly started to mean a better quality of life, which seems counter-intuitive in a way. Money really doesn’t buy you happiness. Quality of life is what brings you happiness and you do NOT have to be rich to live well.. Trust me. It’s a myth. The money you can save by simplifying your life…well, already it’s astounding to me. Doesn’t take a lot to live well.

It is a myth we will bust together if you want to come with me and follow my adventures. I plan to write day by day the struggles, the problems I encounter, and the innovative ways I find to solve them. I will share my joys, what I learn in terms of big ideas and profound thoughts, and what I learn to make life easier in a tiny vintage house. Who am I? I’m just a teacher without a classroom, because finding a job that pays well has really been difficult–I’m just an English teaching, Emerson and Thoreau spouting woman who loves nature, reading books, writing journals and blogs, loves art, swimming in Lake Superior, and clearing away the clutter to find out who I really am. Who are you?

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The night before camper day!

Ok. I’m still living in my car. After the initial shame and guilt and shock of it which I went into here, I find that there is no shame in sleeping in my car any longer. It is not a marker of failure. It is simply a different kind of shelter. I don’t know how that mind shift happened but my perceptions are different. I am no longer focused inwardly or selfishly. I am focused outwardly.

I’m so excited. It’s the night before I get my tiny home. I have been planning for two weeks how I’d fix it up and make it mine, but today I felt quiet, and peaceful and I went to the beach on Wisconsin Point. I was alone out there. I love being alone out there. There are just the gulls, the wind blowing off of the lake, and the sound of the waves breaking on the sand. There are lake-smooth round rocks of every color, black, red, white quartz, (and Lake Superior agates if you are really lucky), black and red rocks, all tossed and rolled by the world’s largest rock tumbler, my wonderful lake. I saw a bald eagle fly overhead yesterday. I sit on a driftwood log and let the wind play through my long hair; the sound of the wind and the waves breaking on the beach, and all of the kinks in my nerves get smoothed out; the anxiety breaks up and disappears, and all becomes right in my world.

I speak to The One Who is Greater Than Me who is known by many names and many religions. Wakan Tanka or Tunkashila to the Lakota people who I spent six years with teaching in the public school on the rez. I speak to Spirit often. I feel that there is something larger than me. I cherish that.

What a circuitous route I have taken coming home. I travelled the world and many states, and went through so much growth and expansion spiritually and mentally. Home is meant to be a rest for me, but it seems Whoever is In Charge thinks that I need to keep growing, hence living in the car the last little while. Hence being pushed into a different lifestyle with the tiny camper–but now I wonder when it went from being pushed into the camper to becoming a conscious choice to live this way and not bow down to the rents and landlords and feel as so many do that they have no choice but to conform and pay up.

Not everyone can buy a camper. Here I got blessed. There are tons of used campers for sale for any price really because in this country, everyone camps and fishes. I got lucky with mine being so inexpensive. It was a Gift.

It took losing a lot to uncover the important things and the real friends who are few but true. We know life isn’t about “who dies with the most toys.” We yearn for more and we seek more –hence explorers and pastors abound. Some of us travel to find ourselves. Like that book “Wild” about the woman who up and hiked the Pacific Coast Trail to come back to who she was, the woman her mother thought she was. Or the Eat Pray Love lady.

My journey was outward and now it is inward. It is in contemplation of the lake and birds and wind, and the space between extravagance and poverty.

This is what I am thinking as I spend the last night in my car. Tomorrow will be the start of a different and simpler kind of life.

I have more to unload. I still need to lighten up. More on that later.

Good night dear readers. Have you felt the call to simplify or have you been unceremoniously pushed into the worst that could happen only to discover that maybe the worst thing is turning out to be the best?

Dear past me…

 I see you now.  You are young, and shy, and earnest, and you hide your shyness behind an outgoing personality that often comes across as brash and loud.   You are such an innocent.  You know well the power of people to hurt.  You’ve been watching people hurt each other at home most  of your life.    You’ve retreated to books and writing for safety, and you love school because you’re smart, and because there, you get positive affirmation for being who you are.

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I wish I could tell you all the amazing places you’re going to go, and the people around the world that you will meet.  I wish I could tell you that you travel because you love new places, yes, but also because you ran from love because it scared you, and you ran to get away from home.  You’re a runner.   When things get too hard in one place, you run to another.  You’ve started over more times than I can count, but the trick is, you can’t run away from yourself.   I wish I could tell you to be yourself sooner and not try to be what everyone else wants you to be, especially men.    I wish I could tell you not all men are bad, there are good ones out there, but until you think better of yourself, you won’t meet those good ones and be ready for them.   You’ll meet men who are emotionally unavailable like your dad was, but you won’t figure this out for thirty years.  You will believe that the failure of your relationships is all your fault.  But one day, you will understand that while yes, it does take two, you’ve been picking what you’re used to.  You’ve chosen what you believe you deserve and what you believe about yourself–that you are unlovable, invisible, and unimportant.  Your dad did a number on you.

You will meet a man who will turn a light on in a dark room for you.   He will be the light that shines on a whole new world for you.   He will be interested in what you think and who you are, and will like you for yourself.  He will give you Blake, and Dylan, and  Billie Holiday and Nanci Griffith, and you and he will spend hours talking about all the places he’s gone in the world and listening to this, and to all he knows of literature and poetry and culture will light a fire in your heart to see the places he speaks of, and  know more of the world he does, because you’d like to be able to keep up with him in conversation.  He will call you his girl with the gypsy feet.   He will be  the most confusing, wonderful , tenderhearted man you have ever known, and he will break your heart, not because he was callous, or heartless, or mean, but because he was good, and kind, and he taught you how a real man acts towards a smart woman he considers his equal. He will die, and you will want to, but you will live–first for him, then later, you will learn to live for yourself.

You will be broke most of your life.  You will  go to Ireland and write in your journal in Bewley’s Cafe. You will visit Shetland Islands and sit on the docks and write by the sea, with the sharp smell of fish, and the briny smell of sea water, next to battered old fishing boats that have stories of their own.   You will go to Belfast and look at the murals and wonder why people can’t get along. You will wonder why people can’t get along all of your life.   You will go to Russia, and see the Hermitage and the Bolshoi Ballet, and Moscow and ride a train across Russia with cockroaches for bedmates and cheap Georgian champagne while  listening to the life story of one of the coach matrons who tells you how her parents were collective farmers and she grew up wanting to go to college and become a teacher, but instead, works on the trains.  You will visit Moscow University. You will meet many Russian people who are emotional and passionate and good, and kind, and beaten down. You will wonder again, as this is the end of the Cold War, if Russia can learn to be a democracy.  You will find out they have trouble holding on to freedom.

You will become discouraged at the selfish, self centered nature of people.  Of the rich people who work the system to get what they want, while depriving others of what they need.  Greedy pepole who believe freedom is only for them while taking others’ freedoms away.  People who believe that violence is the only answer and power is everything.

But there will be moments, when the world reveals itself to be a miraculous, beautiful place. When you see deer.  When you see random acts of kindness by strangers.  When you see selflessness. When you see a tiny flower growing out of concrete, or see a sunset on a prairie in Nebraska, or the  Northern Lights in northern Minnesota. At those moments, you will believe in God.

Keep going, be strong, and have faith.  It gets better, girlie.   You will be much more yourself, more self-confident and you will know what you want when you are almost fifty, but….better late than never.   Your whole life will be a sacred pilgrimage to your sense of spirituality, God, and yourself. You get to help people, and love, and be loved.

You get to go home again, and be happy in the end.

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