It’s been over 4 years since Dustin and I sold most of our possessions and moved into our ‘85 Westy. We often laugh about being “accidental minimalists.” It wasn’t our plan, but the road sort of tailored our life in that direction. I mean, it’s hard not to be a minimalist when you live in 80sf. As Winston Churchill said, “We shape our homes and then our homes shape us.”
So, without further ado, here are 5 minimalist habits we’ve learned living in a van.
- Declutter Often – In our van, our kitchen is our living room is our bedroom is our office, so space is a premium. But one thing we’ve realized, small space really isn’t the problem. Before we lived in the van we had 1,500 sf, yet we still managed to amass clutter – boxes of books and binders from college, clothes from high school, enough dishes for a family of eight. We’ve learned that the only way to keep a small space, or any space, organized is to declutter often.
Once every three months we purge. We gather everything we own in one place and take inventory. The things that no longer serve us, we get rid of. This not only frees up our physical space, it also gives us mental clarity to focus on the things that are important to us. By practicing mindfulness with what enters our van, we are able to maintain a decluttered space.
- Say No – “No” is a complete sentence. Not long into our life in the van, we realized that in order to have the experiences we are truly seeking we had to become minimalists – not only with our things, but with our time. Neither of us were good at saying no, especially when it came to loved ones and friends. But we’ve learned in order to have balance and a healthy mind, body and soul, we must set boundaries.
By saying no to a request, task or invitation and not overloading our schedule, we are saying yes to us. Learning to say no has improved our balance with work, social life, and downtime – and has greatly reduced anxiety.
- Follow Your Passions – The things that bring you pleasure essentially make you happy and increase your well being. Turn those pleasures into habits.
When Dustin and I first got on the road, neither of us were sure what our pleasures were. We had some ideas, of course, so we discussed them and made a list of activities we thought would make us happy.
As we identified the things that bring us joy, we started allocating time for these activities and scheduling them in our journals. I love hiking, so I take an hour or two out of every day to go on a short hike. Or I select two days out of the week for an overnight backpacking trip. My pack is always packed. I set an alarm and go. By doing this, we create habits and prioritize the things that bring us joy.
- Keep an Emergency Fund – In our lifestyle, nothing is guaranteed. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected, since our van is a finicky beast. Literally, we never know what’s around the corner. Having an emergency fund gives us peace of mind and an advantage in the long run. When opportunities arise, we have the ability to be creative without feeling stressed about our finances.
- Do a Digital Detox – As often as necessary! Social media is a part of our lifestyle. It’s where we share our experiences and stories from life on the road. With that being said, we’ve found that we spend a lot of time staring into a screen. This can be a major brain drain.
By tracking the time we spend on our devices, we have been able to identify where we need to make changes. The first thing we did is turn off all notifications. This was a huge step in keeping us from checking our phones every 5 minutes, now I forget where mine is half the time. We intentionally disconnect and step away from our devices as often as necessary, for as long as we need. This deliberate act of unplugging gives us the ability to recharge. Less time in front of the screen means more time on our relationship and on activities that are important to us.
Life is going on right in front of our faces, don’t miss it by staring down at a screen. And that brings us to the next point…
- Practice Immediacy – Perhaps the most important habit I’ve learned (am learning). “Be here now” has been my mantra for some time, and it’s something I continually strive for. My brain fires on 10 cylinders and quieting it down to live in the moment is sometimes a challenge. But the more I practice, the more I’m able to maintain this “enlightened” state. Being fully immersed in the present moment has lead to so many deep connections and life-changing experiences.
Immediacy is a way to declutter the mind. Rather than putting off things that need to be done, whether chores or passions, we do them now. The more we practice this, the more we are able to focus on the things we’re grateful for and say ‘yes’ to the things that bring us joy.