In March 2018, we sold our house, gave away or stored most of our belongings, and hit the road with our travel trailer in tow. Over nearly a yearlong period, we traveled 8,000 miles and went from coast to coast.
While we lived on the road in under 200 square feet, I could have given you a verbal list of everything we owned, it was so little. We made room in our travel trailer for a Vitamix, an Instapot, my laptop and camera, a few books, a doll and stuffed animal for each kid, my husband’s guitar, and enough clothes for each of us for one week.
Leaving all of my kids’ toys and books behind was hard; we’re a homeschooling family, but suddenly, we’re schooling very minimally and simply. Would my kids miss their toys? Would homeschooling still work if we didn’t have piles of books to consult and pore over? Am I somehow failing them as a mom for pursuing this lifestyle?
The first few months were wild, we navigated through those early days with little routine or certainty. But despite the radical life change, I noticed my kids were thriving. My oldest daughter was much calmer and happier. My middle daughter reveled in the newfound freedoms and simplicity of our home. Our baby was content to be near us all the time.
We spent the majority of our day outdoors playing, riding bikes, and swimming. When the kids were inside, we did our homeschooling lessons, cooked together, and read aloud. Never once, in 9 months, did I hear one of my kids complain about missing toys. They were too busy and too happy to care.
I understood how they felt. How was it possible that my entire wardrobe fit in a closet only 1 foot wide, and I was happy about that? Or that we rarely watched movies at night because the heavy darkness of a natural night sky would lull us to sleep? We needed so little, and even though I thought of myself as a practicing minimalist for the previous 7 years, I was astonished by how little I truly needed.
Then we moved into a house
Right around a year after we hit the road we moved into a rental house of just under 1300 square feet. It feels like a mansion in comparison to our Lance 2185. As we signed the rental agreement, I imagined the things I would buy for our house and how happy I would feel getting our possessions out of storage.
I kept waiting for that feeling to come. As I placed all of our treasured books on bookshelves, I waited. As I unpacked my favorite dishes, my grandmother’s sewing box, and even more clothes, I waited. It seemed that my feeling of nesting and happiness to have space for more would never come.
Living so simply and tiny for a year broke me of my need for stuff. When you live in 200 sq. ft, you can’t pick up everything your heart desires at Target. You have no need to shop for furniture or bed linens (unless something gets ruined) or patio furnishings or knick-knacks or really anything because the physical limitations of the space make it impossible. You don’t have a need for a capsule wardrobe because everything you own is as much as some people wear for just one season. After a year of living this way, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to go back.
Same with my kids. We unpacked all of their toys, and while they were excited to see them initially, now they’re complaining about the stuff everywhere. Can we move back into the Lance, mom? I miss how small and cozy it felt.
The truth is, I miss the lifestyle too. I miss the utter simplicity of having one pan to wash, a few favorite outfits to wear, no toys to pick-up, and nature enveloping us. I miss not paying house bills, not worrying about neighborhood crime and city things, and am feeling how hard it can be to find untouched nature in an urban landscape. I miss how conscious I was about my water usage (for fear it would run out) and how a 5 minute hot shower with a breeze coming off the Pacific through the roof vent felt like absolute heaven. I miss how sacrificing so much, according to American standards, blessed me with the most abundant life I’ve gotten to experience yet.
Our family’s minimalist lifestyle living on the road full-time radically changed us from the inside out. Those long days hiking in the woods, or exploring along the coast, or even cooking our food over a campfire because it feels so right to be in nature–those memories are with us still and remind us of who we truly are and want to be. We will never go back to desiring things over people and experiences, it’s simply not possible. And while old Kate would have needed to nest her house immediately and make all the home purchases, travel Kate is content to simply be. So while our house may be half-empty, we have found that true happiness is found through the people that love you and not what you own.