The trendy topic these days is minimalism. Some people would think that we must be minimalists because we live(d) in a van. I don’t know the technical definition for minimalist, but I’m pretty sure I’m not one. Rather, van life has helped confirm my own personal definition for myself as a “less-ist”.
I have no idea when the shift first occurred, but over the past 15 or so years I have started to care less about stuff and more about experiences. My own family has done a shift when it comes to gift giving. We value time over things. I could say this is born from my brother’s traumatic brain injury 12 years ago, but even before that there were musings of this movement. As time has pressed on and my confidence as a human has emerged, I have felt more sure in my ability to let the people in my world know that I prefer time and experience over physical objects. However, as I type this I realize this begs clarification. I like some things. I like new things. I like some surprises, very small, tiny, almost non-existent surprises. Scratch that, I hate surprises, but I like receiving the occasional item that I’m not expecting. I shop. I buy clothes. I buy cycling stuff. I probably have too much of that, if there is such a thing. I enjoy bike gear and running apparel. And I’m just going to stop listing things I like. The point is, I do like some stuff but I just want to have less of it and I want to use what I have or get rid of it, as well as to purge the old stuff when new items are welcomed. Less-ist, not minimalist.
I’ve loved being in the van and using the excuse, either out loud or to myself, “Sorry, we can’t have/get/accept/take XYZ because we live in a van.” I’m terrified that living in more physical space is going to impact my/our ability to say no to things. Ok so if I don’t want to say no, then why won’t I just say yes, you ask? Because stuff and things make me feel crazy and suffocated. They take time to deal with, move, clean, store, fix. Life is short and there are a million other things I’d like to be doing other than managing stuff. It took us months to move out of our house in to our storage unit, and I refuse to spend time doing that ever again. As we have moved back in, we have purged and purged and purged some more. For many reasons, number one of which being that we as humans tend to fill the space we have, we want to live in a smaller house; however, budgets and location being what they are, it makes sense for us to live in our 2500 sq ft home. As a result, our goal is to avoid living in a third of it and, 4 weeks in, we’ve been successful at not filling our basement level. Also, we have a huge yard sale planned in order to unload a lot of the possessions we stored.
Some people operate their clothes and things by season. Time to put away the summer clothes the moment a single leaf hits the ground. But the reality is that I live in Colorado and spend a lot of time in New England. Each of those places can experience all four seasons in a single 24 hour time period. For this reason, I simply have clothes, not seasonal clothes. As I appreciate my less-ist approach to life I have realized that it is in my better interest to have all the clothes and things I need and use visible to me. If something has to be put away, it can be given away. This approach has served me well and has helped decreased on the clutter in storage areas, closets and attics. In that same way, we have decided not to use our attic or basement storage as we have moved back to the house. If it needs to be stored, we probably don’t need it or it can borrow it from someone else.*
Our fellow friend and van lifer, Cyndi Ortiz of @theoysterandthepearl, recently posted that she is still able to purge like a champ in the van. For a while she was denying herself the satisfaction that comes with obtaining a new physical item, using the familiar excuse that there is no room in the van for more items. However, as she aptly pointed out, we don’t need to deny things that make us happy, what’s the point of that. Rather, if obtaining new things bring us joy, then relish that and unload older items that have possibly lost their sparkle. This way the volume of items stays low and the happy meter ticks up.
True to the overwhelming nature of stuff, when we moved out of the van and in to the house, I was unpacking stuff sacks full of clothes from the van that I simply didn’t touch in 15 months. If I can lose track of what I have in 72 square feet and, more importantly, not miss the presence of that stuff in my life, I can guarantee that happens in a bigger house. From this all my rules for myself as a “less-ist” have been born:
- Something new comes in, one or more items go out
- Everything in sight, nothing in storage or buried in full drawers/shelves
- Use it or lose it (evaluate at 6 month intervals, goes for clothes, gear, kitchen gadgets & appliances ,bikes, etc)
- Empty/bare walls & shelves are beautiful
*exceptions: Christmas ornaments, tents, sleeping bags + mats, luggage, etc