Sunday, 13 May 2018

Questions and Answers Part 3 - Living without Stuff

Today's 'question and answer' post focuses largely around 'stuff', which is another one of the main fears people have when considering a life on the road.  How on earth does a person live with such a small amount of possessions, or without many of their favourites?  As usual, I can only really share my own experiences here, but talking to other travellers I think the feeling is pretty much the same.  So let's get to it!

How would I live without all my stuff?  I'm not sure I could cope with so little.

Oh, but you can!  You would be amazed at how little you can cope with, and quite happily too.  Think about it:

* You didn't start your life with all this stuff.  It takes years, decades, a lifetime to fill a home with all the things you own.  Some of them are important; a lot of them aren't.  Many of them are just space fillers, shelf fillers, wall fillers, random objects we've picked up, things we've been given.  Organisers and display units for stuff we like the look of but doesn't actually do anything.  We all have items we consider precious, and Gareth and I are no different in that respect, but most precious or sentimental items are not things which we use every day, or indeed not even useful at all.  They can invoke different emotions, make us smile, bring back memories, perhaps they make us feel closer to the person who gave them to us - but they don't help us to survive.  We don't need them to get through everyday life.  By the same token, people don't develop emotional attachments to household appliances and convenience gadgets.  We might joke that we do - or maybe even think we do - but as soon as we are away from them and in a different environment, we quickly forget all about them.  When you go away on holiday, do you talk about how much you miss your possessions?  No, you miss people, not things, and living on the road is the same.

* What would you save in a fire?  This old chestnut, along with 'what would you take with you if you were stranded on a desert island?' are both simple but effective exercises.  When you live on the road, you only take the items you really can't live without, along with perhaps a few luxury items or sentimental things you might have room for.  If your house was on fire, you don't race to save your lounge suite, or your 50 inch flat screen TV.  You save the things that can't be replaced.  Some people have more room than others obviously, depending on the size of their home on wheels.  To give you an idea of the things we consider precious and want to have around us all the time, in our van we have four of our wedding photos on the wall (that's all we have room for).  On a tiny shelf we have the bride and groom ornament from our wedding cake, a tiny house ornament I bought in Corfu on a family holiday when I was 13, which I keep my rings in.  My most precious item of all is a bright green soft bendy flower with a smiley face.  My youngest son Ali won it for me in a toy machine when he was little.  He still remembers it was the night we could see the planet Mars when we stood outside.  I just Googled it and it was 2003, so there you go, my flower is 15 years old and he would have been just four.  Everywhere we go, that flower is with me, smiling across at me in the driver's seat.  I'm getting sentimental now, but you get what I mean?  It's the small things which are important, not the biggest or most expensive.

* Ask yourself, is there an alternative?  Most of the time, there are other ways to get by without owning a lot of the things you used to.  You don't need to own a washing machine on the road when you can wash by hand or use a laundromat.  You don't need to own a TV if you have a laptop to watch programmes on.  Some people on the road have vacuum cleaners and even irons, it all depends on the size of the vehicle how feasible it is.  Although people with irons are generally considered mad because most of us have far more exciting things to do on the road than iron and really don't care about a few wrinkles any more!

On the whole, I've found that people who live on the road who still own conventional houses back home tend to miss things more, because they know they have them to go back to, and there's always that pull.  Saying that, there are just as many who don't miss them at all and would rather not have them!  But when a home on wheels is the only home you have, you don't worry about that stuff any more, you just get on with it.

How will I know what I need?  What if I get rid of too much stuff and then discover I need it and no longer have the money to buy it back again?  

With regard to what you need, I have this really annoying saying which goes 'All you need is all you need'.  And you won't believe how incredibly little that is.  It's really just the essentials.  For example we have two complete changes of bedding, one on and one clean, you don't need more than that.  We have around four changes of clothes each (plus extra socks and undies), a hairbrush and basic toiletry items.  The first week we were in the van I decluttered my clothes twice more, as I soon realised I just wasn't going to need them.  I brought all my creams and moisturisers with me when we left the house but once they ran out I didn't bother replacing them. We have two large and two smaller towels each and 'dog towels' for Minnie.  The kitchen is probably the most important as you're going to use that stuff the most.  We have several large and small plates, one big frying pan, one small (which we've used once so was a daft idea really), one medium sized saucepan and one smaller, plus a crock pot, which is downright luxurious for a van.  Four knives, forks, spoons, teaspoons and a couple of sharp knives, wooden spoons and spatulas, tin opener...  It really depends on how large your vehicle is as to what you already have and what you are going to need.  People who live in a van really don't have much, to be honest I think we have a lot more than most!  But hey, most people don't live in a van as long as we do, we managed for five months quite happily without a kettle, toaster or fridge.  Even when we did get a fridge, it was three months before we used it, as we were so used to living without one, we forgot we even had it!  If you ever want me to do a full inventory, let me know.  Just not when it's only two degrees outside like it is right now!

As for 'what if I get rid of too much stuff and then want it back again?'  I doubt very much that will happen.  Hand on heart.  If anything, it will most likely be the other way round and you'll be turfing more stuff out.  We still have a decluttering session every few months, usually with the change of each season and even we can't believe the crap we manage to accumulate and hang on to.  But, in the event that did happen, as I said earlier, most things are replaceable.  If I ever went back into a house again, I would have absolutely no problem furnishing it completely with second hand and op shop items.  After living in a van, anything would be luxurious!  But when you live with so little it doesn't take long to learn and appreciate the true value of something.  I would much rather pay a couple of dollars for something second hand which is well made and has stood the test of time than pay a fortune for most of today's modern rubbish which is designed to fall apart.  Jeez, listen to me, I must be getting old!

Seriously though, the biggest regret we have is putting some of our items into storage.  Like most people on the road, we don't have a crystal ball and never envisaged how things were going to go and what we would or wouldn't need.  By the six month mark we realised that we were never going to want or need any of it again, yet here we are 18 months down the track still paying $30 a week for stuff we don't want and trying to work out the most cost effective way of getting it down the country to us so we can sort through it and get rid of it once and for all.  My advice to anyone who wants or needs items stored, is try and find a way you can do it for free.  Ask around friends or family to see if they have any shed space or anywhere you could store your things until you know whether your new lifestyle is going to be for you.  We can't even tell you what the heck is in our storage any more, but there are some things which are too expensive to just be given away or dumped, as well as irreplaceable family photos and such.  Even so, $120 a month to keep them locked up in a box is really not ideal - and that's cheap for storage!  Take it from us, if there is any way you can avoid paying for someone to look after your stuff, do it.

How will I cope living in such a confined space?  

Trust me, the thought of this totally freaked me out too, particularly as someone who had absolutely no previous experience of being in a caravan, motorhome or anything remotely small.  The last three homes I lived in were all enormous two-storey buildings, with huge gardens.  Seriously, if I had spent too long thinking about living in a van I probably would have had a panic attack.  Fortunately for me, everything happened so fast I didn't really have time to think about it!  What can I say, it comes down to the old 'home is what you make it' scenario.  You make your space your own, however small that may be.  You do that by putting your stuff in it, cooking and eating in it, sleeping in it and relaxing and watching Netflix in it, just like you do in a house.  Everyone is different.  Gareth doesn't get cabin fever, ever!  I don't know how he does it, but he's just content in his own little space.  He has a lot of hobbies too which are all indoors, so whatever the weather he is always occupied and happily busy.  Me on the other hand, I get dreadful cabin fever.  If I don't go for a walk every day I get grumpy.  It's really important for me to keep active for my health, not to mention my sanity.  I find particularly in the winter when we can't be outside so much, your joints and muscles can really seize up and get sore, so it's always important to move when you can.  I have a pedometer thingy on my phone and I try and do 10,000 steps a day.  The thing is, just because you live in a small space, it doesn't mean you have to be stuck in it 24/7.  Most travellers have awnings or gazebos to create extra space or their own outdoor area.  All you have to do is open the door and the whole country is your backyard!

Just because we live in a van, doesn't mean we spend every second in it!  For example, we quite enjoyed our 'dining room' at Lake Hawea

Should I sell my house, or rent it out?  What if I get bad tenants and they don't look after the place?

This is one question I would never dare answer as everyone is different.  For me, renting our house out wasn't an option, it was sell or nothing.  And the 'nothing' option had already been done to death.  For those who do have the choice though, there are two general schools of thought.  The first just want to get right away from their old life; away from the rat race and slogging their guts out to pay bills.  They've had enough and they know they never want to go back to it, so they sell up everything and don't look back.  The other want more from the life they currently have, but they're not entirely sure if living on the road full time is for them - and even if it is, they can't bear the thought of not having somewhere of their own to go back to in their old age.  So they keep their house and either rent it out or leave it empty.  Obviously finances play a big part in this, as you need to be able to afford both your new mobile lifestyle and the responsibilities and costs of your old one.  Which is why a lot of people rent their houses out indefinitely, or at least long term.  I don't have any experience of this whatsoever, and I haven't really heard of any 'bad tenants' as such but I have heard of quite a few travellers who have had tenants commit to renting their houses from them long term, only to let them down and bail out unexpectedly.  This can throw quite a spanner in the works when you're halfway down the country, merrily enjoying your travels and all of a sudden you have to go back home and check the house is OK and find some new tenants.  It's not the end of the world, but it can be a big inconvenience.  And once you stop for any real length of time, it can be hard to get going again.  All I can say I think is trust your gut instinct.  If you don't have to sell and you're not 100% sure you won't want to come back to it one day, then don't do it.  You can always sell later, once you know for sure.

Remember, when it comes to all these questions, you don't have to go in to living on the road blindly.  We didn't have the option, our house sold in nine hours and five weeks later we were out!  However most people mercifully have the time to do things at a slightly more comfortable pace.  Practise is the key.  Practise living in a small space; hire a camper van for a long weekend, then a week, then two weeks.  It doesn't have to be expensive; besides think of it as a long term investment.  If it means you can going into your new life feeling comfortable, capable and confident rather than a nervous wreck, it's worth the expense.  As a rule of thumb, I reckon if you can manage two weeks in a van without going mad or killing each other, you've cracked it.

One thing I did have a lot of time to practise with however, was living with less stuff.  I downsized and decluttered, and downsized and decluttered some more, over months and years, until there was nothing left I could possibly get rid of.  I should probably write a proper blog about that one day, it's one thing I definitely am an expert on!  But as a starting point, if you haven't seen it yet, you're welcome to check out the video I made a little while back here.  I hope you find it helpful!

We've just got a few more questions to get through, which I'll aim to get to tomorrow.  In the meantime, if you have any more to add to the list, please drop us a line!


  1. It all sounds wonderful, though I'm not quite game to do it myself. There's nothing wrong with dreaming about it though. Just something about renting out one's house - getting a property manager to look after it, and find new tenants if necessary, would make it easier if you are away from your house. There is a cost, of course, but savss a lot of hassles.

  2. Hi Desiree, good point! I don't really know too much about renting, having never done it. I can imagine that would certainly make things a lot easier and bring peace of mind. Thank you!