Nature Abhors a Vacuum: Simplicity and Minimalism
He who would travel happily must travel light.
~~Antoine de St. Exupery
Whenever people find out I live in a vehicle, they inevitably ask me “WHY?” I have a very simple one-word answer: freedom. I want to be able to live the way I want to live, where I want to live and how I want to live and not as just another one of societies drones.
A huge part of making that happen is adapting simplicity and minimalism as a way of life. You may ask, “What do they have to do with freedom?” Just think about how much your life revolves around your “stuff,” your myriad possessions that you just can’t live without. You work at a job (that you probably don’t like) to buy the stuff, then you have to pay rent or a mortgage to have the room to warehouse your stuff. The main reason you have to work so much is because of ‘’stuff.” Think about how much freedom you could gain if you got rid of all that stuff and lived in a van. You could work half as much you do now and own lots more of your time.
It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else,
that prevents us from living freely and nobly.
~~ Bertrand Russell
Many of us want to be able to travel and see more of the country and world. But our stuff holds us back. We can’t just get-up-and-go, because what are we going to do about all our stuff? That stuff ties us down to one job, in one town and we aren’t free to do anything else.
The reason I’ve been thinking about stuff limiting our freedom, is because my accumulation of stuff has grown so large, it is limiting my freedom, and I don’t like it! For 2 ½ years I lived in a homebuilt camper on my Ford F150 pickup. It was tiny! It measured 6×7 feet and everything I owned in the world was in it, so I simply couldn’t have much stuff. It was almost comical when I first started out. I had so much extra stuff in the camper that every day I had to find a thrift store and donate stuff. I left a breadcrumb trail of stuff all the way across the country from North Carolina to Arizona. Finally I got it down to pretty much the minimum necessary to live and I was quite happy.
It really is true that nature abhors a vacuum. All that empty space in the trailer and pickup bed seemed to demand I get some stuff to fill it, and who am I to argue with Mother Nature! So slowly the trailer got full and the pickup bed got full and I realized one day, “I’ve got a bunch of stuff!!”
I became really aware of how much stuff I had when it was time to break camp and move to a new location. It took me hours to pack everything away outside the trailer and even more hours to get everything secured inside the trailer so it wouldn’t go flying as I drove. Having to spend a full day packing things to break camp really limits my freedom! In the old days when I lived in the camper shell, I could break camp in less than one hour, now it took me all day.
That was really driven home to me by camping with Steve and Cheri. They could both break camp and be ready to drive away in an hour while I spent the whole day getting ready. I find myself dreading moving and looking for excuses to stay in one spot. That’s not freedom.
So it’s time to start another Purge of Stuff. The problem is that all the stuff I’ve added makes my life more comfortable, so I don’t want to get rid of it. BUT! I love my life so much; I won’t risk it for anything! I’ll gladly give it all away to keep the incredible life I have!! Bottom line: here I go again, examining everything I own and demanding it justify the space it takes up. If I can’t justify it, to the thrift store it goes!! Bob
Well said Bob! As you may or may not know, I modelled my trailer after yours and Randys over at Mobile Codgers…mine is a 6 x 14 rounded bull nose, with 280 watts of solar on the roof and a 550 watt wind turbine. I also had 6″ extra interior height/roof a-c and a 30 amp power connection built in. It takes me about 15 minutes to be ready to hookup and hit the road—I pretty much stay in a state of readiness to roll all the time! And in the last year and a half, I’ve gotten really good at not acquiring more “stuff”…..good luck with your purge!! You won’t really miss it you know!
Way to make me feel bad John!! Just kidding!! Wow, being ready to go in 15 minutes is a dream to me. But to be honest I have planned my life around setting in one place for long period of times. I traveled a lot my first few years on the road and now I will setup camp and be there for months at a time. So I move a lot of activities to outside the trailer. I also carry a lot of tools so I can help people at RTR, plus I carry quite a few things I only use at RTR.
How do you like your wind generator? Do you generally get enough wind to make it worthwhile? I spend my winters in the desert and a wind gen would be great, but in the summers in the forest, I get virtually no wind. So far I have decided 6 months of use wasn’t enough.
‘Very nice to see you’ve begun to blog. You have a lot of wisdom–pscyhological, spiritual, and also practical–that can be educational and inspiring to so many.
On this post… Yes, there is the eternal tug of war between freedom on the one hand, and security and creature-comforts on the other. Not only do different people have different preferred balances on such things, but even the same person, at different points, and as your blog post reflects, can prefer a different balance at different times. As for me, I’m unambiguously still on the way-too-much-stuff side of imbalance, and was reminded of this again by your post.
I look forward to your ongoing blog.
Hi Michaelin, you are so right! about the tug of war between freedom and security! That really summarizes it very well. Having a bunch of stuff around really does give me/us a sense of security. Someone I care for is a hoarder, and that is what I’ve concluded is at the core of her illness. She gets a sense of safety and security from having it all around her. But when I’m honest, I feel the same way, just to a much lesser degree.
Very few people get their possessions down to where they can honestly call themselves simple living, much less minimalist. Hang in there, you will get to where you want to be!! bob
I heard a motivational speaker say this, “There are 2 doors in Life, one is labeled “Security” and the other is labeled “Freedom”. If you choose the “Security” door, you get neither”.
I agree wholeheartedly Mark. I just wish I had figured it out earlier in life. Like most people I married young and had kids. I thought that left me no choice but to play the traditional role of work, save, spend. The year my youngest turned 18, I was out of their! So sometimes we have to choose the door marked security, but I’m sure you are right, it really is just an illusion and even that comes at a tremendously high price. Bob
Many years ago my wife introduced me to the idea of the 1 year rule ( not really minimalist but certainly draws a line of not accumulating much ) …If you have not used the item in one years time , get rid of it.
This idea covers all 4 seasons and works pretty good .
I suppose the Rv lifestyle would reduce the one year time even further ?
Hi Draz, that is a good rule to live by! I’m not sure if RVing makes it shorter. I find that whenever I am moving camp and have to pack everything away I tend to start searching for things I can get rid of. For most of us our space is so limited that when we want to bring something new into the van, something old has to go to make room for it.
To be honest, I’m pretty lazy so whenever the place starts to get too crowded I get motivated to try to get rid of stuff. So it isn’t very organized, it just kind of spontaneously happens.
I’m still in the planning stages, but I’m thinking of going by a once-a-week rule for deciding what to take with me when I hit the road next spring. Not sure if that’s realistic, but it’s what I’m shooting for.
Lavonne, the months can fly by, hopefully it will get here in the blink of an eye! I am a big believer that in the race of life the Turtle is usually the winner. A once a week plan seems good to me. Work at paring down steadily and it will get done right on time. it’s a lot of hard work, but try to have some fun with it. Bob
Thank you so much for your extremely informative website! I moved into my cargo van beginning of June this year and I absolutely love it! Your website has been extremely helpful and motivating.
Like most, I began with way more ‘stuff’ than I actually needed. I felt cramped, so once a week I reevaluate my little house on wheels. I ask myself whether I’m putting everything to use, or if it’s just taking up space. I’m probably down to about half of what I began with. Gas mileage is a good incentive- every time I unload a 30lb box, I think about how grateful Stan (then van) is to have that much less to haul.
My dilemma is that most things are going into a storage unit, which doesn’t exactly feel freeing. I don’t mind staying in one place, as I live and work in beautiful Colorado. I have a great job with an amazing boss and coworkers. Every one of them supports my lifestyle, and I am able to wash up in the bathroom before work. But all that stuff that just sits around collecting dust, while costing me nearly $100/month.
My dog and I have done more hiking and exploring this summer than the previous 4 years I’ve lived here combined. At first, I rented a storage unit thinking vandwelling would be a temporary lifestyle (explore all summer, then rent a place in the fall). I’m happier than I’ve ever been, though, so I’m thinking I need to donate and sell the ‘stuff’ and use the money I save to insulate the van. Thank you for giving me the inspiration to take the next leap and cut ties with the excess. Good luck in your own minimizing!
Hey Mel, thanks for the great report on your vandwelling life! I’m so glad you are finding it as wonderful as I do. I’m especially glad to have played some small role in helping you into it. I love Colorado! It is one of my favorite places anywhere! One place I would recommend to you now is Crested Butte for the wildflower bloom, although I understand it has been a dry year and that may make it a bad year for the bloom. On a good year it is astoundingly beautiful!
Having lived in a van year-around for 6 years in Anchorage, AK I can give you some ideas on staying warm. Next month I’ll do some posts on insulation and heaters and we can talk about it in depth.
I totally relate to the continual need to keep the clutter down. It’s a continual battle with me. Thanks for writing! Bob
I’m reading Travels with Charley by Steinbeck right now and when I got to the point where he said he’d taken four times as much of everything he could possibly need, I had to laugh. I’d done precisely the same thing in my RV! And like Bob, I’ve made many contributions to charity — and used book stores — along the way. It’s helped, and I can roll in an hour, but I fantasize about the day when I have no external storage containers on my cargo rack because all that stuff fits in my basement because I got rid of all the “might use” but never did…
Jen, you are so right!! LESS IS MORE FOR A VANDWELLER!! BOB
My husband and I are just getting started and we have begun to clean out our 3 bedroom home. Luckily we don’t have much furniture. I have been focusing on our clothes. But I don’t know what a good amount of clothing should be. Both of us will still be working traditional jobs so I know we need work clothes….. but can you give a little insight in this area.
Thank you! and thank you for all the information you make readily available for us newbies!
Hi Jenny, you are very welcome for the info, it brings me great joy to spread the good news of vandwelling. before I can give you advice for your clothes, i need some more info. First, what are you going to be living in. If it’s an RV then you probably will have the room to carry as many clothes as you need. If its a van you are going to need to reduce it to the minimum. I’d say follow the standard advice of:
* wrinkle free,
* colors and styles that are easy to mix and match,
*-multi-purpose clothes that can be used for work and recreation (eg. hiking pants with zip-off legs that become shorts, they look good for upscale things but tough enough for recreation. I like the REI Sahara pants)
* wash your clothes less, unless they are actually dirty air them out a few days and then wear again, changing the color/blouse/skirt/pants combo so nobody notice you are wearing it again.
Since I’m a man and don’t work, I just wear the same clothes over and over again so I really am not much help. Bob
Thank you. We will be living in an RV. Luckily, our jobs are fairly casual so we don’t have to have suits or the like. Most clothing items can multitask. My way of shopping has completely changed since we started moving towards a more mobile life style. It has been absolutely freeing!
Jenny, possessions can easily become a tyranny and breaking free can be wonderful! But sometimes it is very difficult, I’m glad it is going so well for you! Bob
I think the hardest part of getting rid of stuff is the thought, “But I may want to use that someday.” lol
We moved up from an old B to a camper shell recently for more personal space. I think we’ve learned our lesson though. Maybe.
So far, so good. No extra stuff.
Nice article, Bob.
Hi Jerry, yeah, I can relate to the “One of these days” syndrome. My problem is that I have so many things stored for “someday” that when someday comes I can’t find the item I need so I go buy a new one, then I have two of them. And barely need either of them! It sounds like you have grown from simple living in a van and the “stuff” has less of a mental/emotional hold on you and it serves you and instead of you serving it. That’s a good place to be! Bob
Thanks Bob for all the good info on living on the grid! I’ve been thinking and dreaming of traveling in a RV and seeing the US for many years. I’ve been scaling down for several years in order to prepare for living in the RV one day! Read your blog about the solar panels, and was wondering what’s the best place to find the panels, inexpensively? I like to plan ahead, and thought you might help. In live in NC. Thanks!
Hi Mel, the best place near you is down in Miami, there prices are the lowest anywhere. There may be others, but since I am on the West coast, I am not familiar with them. Here is their website:
Other than that you will have to order them off the internet. A place I like and have done a lot of business with is:
There are many local dealers popping up that install home systems. VEry often they will sell you one panel at incredible prices. So look them up in your local Yellow Pages and give them all a call. They will be the closest. Shipping on the big panels can be very expensive and you can avoid that. Bob
Your advice is not only good for van dwellers, but anyone I think. I currently live in Yokohama, Japan in probably the highest density of humans per square foot place on earth that is the Tokyo metro area. Most apartments here are shoeboxes with front doors and mailboxes to help them look more hospitable. LOL
I know you aren’t into the city life at all (and at times neither am I, since I literally head for the hills to the countryside whenever I can) but your website has helped me over the years get by with less!
I used to live in a big 2 bed/2 bath apartment in Atlanta. I had a kitchen, dining room, 2 bedrooms, bonus room, and huge closets. Just as you said, nature abhors a vacuum, and each room became cluttered with crap I really didn’t need. Before I moved to Japan in 2008, I had the Garage Sale of Ages and sold or donated everything except for some of my clothes, my computers, and small sentimental items like school yearbooks, my granny’s old Bible, and stuff like that.
Now I live in a space that’s 1/3 the size of that old apartment (the rent is almost the same unfortunately 🙁 ) and I perform a quarterly assessment of stuff around here to toss out when I notice its not needed.
If I ever move back to the States, the first thing I’m doing is buying a decent used Roadtrek or something, and living in it. I used to go camping in Oak Creek Canyon and Joshua Tree as a boy with my parents in either a Toyota truck with a camper shell or a Plymouth Reliant K car all the time… And strangely enough, I remember those vacations with more clarity than the ones where we were in hotels or on tour buses somewhere.
I’ve learned so much from living over here in Japan and keeping a minamalist approach to not only physical space, but mental and spirtitual as well…THAT’S the most important thing to me.
Peace and Safe Journeys,
JL, it sounds like we are alike in our fascination with things form the East. The West would be much happier if we could incorporate more Eastern philosophy. I like to think of it as the two hemispheres of our brain, the best life incorporates both elements. I am a total believe in Yin and Yang (a totally Eastern thought) that everything is composed of opposites, but they are not in conflict (a Western concept) but are co-creators of existence (Eastern). The journey to wholeness must include embracing the whole.
I envy you your time there and all it is teaching you! Bob
I think you really have a fantastic looking blog!
And now, Bob, you have an extended van to go with your trailer. It just shows how strong the impulse to have more stuff is. What a battle.
It really is a battle Al!! When I got the van my pile of stuff EXPLODED! I have been working hard at getting rid of it and keeping it out but I am very sympathetic to anybody who struggles with too much stuff!