Thriving in a Bad Economy
I first became aware of this in 2008 when the traffic to my website suddenly jumped up to a tremendously higher number of hits. Then I started getting emails almost daily from people who had lost their jobs, their savings were running out and they were facing foreclosure on their home. They knew that very soon they would literally be homeless and they were writing for me on advice on how to live in a vehicle. Of course I always wrote back and gave them all the help and encouragement I could. I still get those emails and there are still many cries for help on the forum.
It’s hard not to conclude that our world is changing, and not for the better. At one time there was a social contract that if you played by the rules (went to school, got a job and worked hard) everything would be fine. That’s no longer true today. You can do everything right, just the way society wants you to do it, and still end up broke, alone and homeless.
One other thing I noticed on the forum was how often people would write in and say that they were in this awful economic situation, but their family (most often their children) and friends had not offered them any help. So for many it is a double-whammy, not only had society let them down economically but their families had had also failed them.
Many parents are blaming themselves for the way their children turned out, but I’m not so sure they are right. We don’t raise our children in a vacuum. In the long run, they are just as influenced by their schools, peers and media as they are by us. I used to ridicule the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but I don’t any more. Whether we like it or not the village has a tremendous influence on the child, so I had better make sure it is a positive influence and if it isn’t I need to work twice as hard to offset the negative influence.
I believe our society is fundamentally flawed, and it has taken a long time but the flaws are finally accumulating and we are seeing the affects. The tremendously negative effects of the global village are coming home to roost.
The world we live in is changing, and not for the better. I personally don’t expect things to ever go back to the way they were. Chances are many of you reading my blog right now are here because at some level you are aware of the flaws in our society and are looking for an alternative, or have been forced to come here because of the bad economy.
I’m nowhere near smart enough to think I have any solutions for society’s problems, but I do think vandwelling is the best way out of this mess for individuals. Capitalism works so well because it appeals to the greed in all of us: “I want more!” So we work hard and get more. But that isn’t enough, so we keep working hard and we keep getting more. For a very long time that has worked really well. Consumerism kept us all on the treadmill buying more and that created growth and the bubble just kept getting bigger. But now that the bubble has burst, how will we ever get it started again? I’m a big believer in Peak Oil, which says that we have reached the peak of oil production. From now on, every year, world-wide oil production will decline. We aren’t going to run out of oil, we have run out of cheap, easy to get oil, so from now on the price of oil will just keep going up with an ever increasing demand.
The result is that our economic problems will just get worse, not better and I’m afraid we will continue to be disappointed by our loved ones. The problem is that capitalism creates a cycle of selfishness “I” want more. Everything in our society revolves around perpetually increasing and feeding the greediness of “I.” To make us even more greedy, the media created the concept of “I deserve more!” And so the entitlement generation was created. Helping each other in a time of need doesn’t help me get more, and since I deserve more, I can’t take the time to help you.
How does all of this apply to us, people who have chosen simplicity and mobile living? Vandwelling says just the opposite, of consumerism: “I don’t want more!” In fact vandwelling goes even further and says, “I want less!” That breaks the cycle of selfish greediness. Life is no longer all about getting and accumulating stuff, it’s about simple pleasures and a life lived well. Happiness, not things, becomes our goal. So we can thrive in economic bad times, because all we want is enough food to eat and a little gas to put in our vans.
But because there is no happiness without a community, village or tribe, we soon find ourselves coming together. That is the only possible explanation for the success of the gathering of vandwellers at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and of my forum. When we reject the siren call of capitalism, we need people to fill the vacuum in our hearts, so we start looking for each other and coming together. If the economy improves, we will be happy together. If it doesn’t we can still be happy on our own.
Since you are reading this, I believe we must have kindred spirits; we are brothers and sisters in our own little village. That’s the reason there is a standing invitation for all of you to join me in my camp, we are “kin.” You are always welcome. And if you are far away, you can always write me with any questions you may have.
My wish for all of you is less stuff and more happiness!! Bob
It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.
Bob, Thank you again and well said. I feel the stress eminating from others as they toy back and forth with our lifestyle and simplicity. I too hear the chang in the univerze.
I am anxious for the next RTR. btw big anouncement and drum roll please..ahem…i got my van!
Good for you Lesa! I just checked on the forum and you haven’t posted it yet, what did you get? Bob
Bob: I spent the evening perusing your blog. I thought I simplified my life when I was divorced 4 years ago and the big house was sold at a fire sale price. My living expenses are about a third of what they used to be. This is partly because of my scaling down but mostly because Mrs. Materialism is gone. I have 1 year of alimony left. It ends with my eligibility for Medicare, but 1 year before I can draw full social security. What does this have to do with your blog? Well, I am exploring my alternatives for the time when I finally escape all my obligations. I have been considering buying a van now and spending the next year getting set to hit the road.
I wanted you to know that I think it took amazing courage to walk the path you are on. I have so many fears that I am overwhelmed. What if I get sick? What about my medications? How can I ask my son if I can use his home as my address for mail? Won’t I be lonely? I have very little stuff, but I love some of it. Laugh all you want, but will Iam questioning if I can survive without my shrink to help me wade through a lifetime of unresolved conflicts and issues.
I take my hat off to you. I wish I could find the courage to escape.
Hi Gary, I can totally empathize with where you are coming from. Believe me, I am not that brave. I was forced into living in my van because after a bad divorce it was either live in a van or be homeless on the streets; I choose to live in a van. I cried myself to sleep my first night in it because I couldn’t believe how low my life had sunk. Gradually I figured out how to live in a van and eventually I fell in love with it.
I can assure you that I would never laugh at anyone for seeing a shrink. I know from personal experience the extreme importance of getting help when you need it. I can tell you the experience of a very dear friend of mine. She was being crippled by a severe OCD. It was so bad she could no longer work and had gone on SSI Disability. Her therapist suggested to her that she live in a van so she did. And it brought her a tremendous amount of relief. Her life got much better.
Of course everones situation is different, maybe living in a van would be the worst possible thing for you. But maybe it would actually improve you mental and emotional health. It certainly has for me and many other vandwellers that I know.
Can I make a suggestion? It isn’t an all or nothing situation, you can try it out before you make a total commitment. If you can afford it, buy a van and start getting it ready to take camping trips in. Treat converting it like a fun hobby. When you have got it ready enough to sleep in it (which doesn’t need much more than take the seats out and lay down a good sleeping pad) spend the night in it with it sitting in your driveway. Maybe do that once a month or once a week until you get comfortable in it, then do it more often.
I am a total believer in the healing power of nature for both body and soul. So I recommend that once you are comfortable with sleeping in the van at home in your driveway, you start taking day trips to local parks and forests. Take a picnic lunch and go for a walk, then go home. Keep doing that as often as you can. Then buy a Coleman propane stove and cook lunch on it and take even longer walks.
When you are ready, combine the two and take a day trip to a campground but stay and sleep overnight. Do this as often as you can. Soon your fears of living in a van will start to drop away. BUT if they don’t and you find that living in a van isn’t for you, you just sell the van and look back on it as an adventure that didn’t work out. No real harm done.
You really have nothing to loose, but if you are anything like me, you have a tremendous amount to gain. Bob
Bob: Thanks for the reply. Most people are naysayers, few offer encouragement. I am much more fortunate than most in that after my divorce I was able to recover emotionally and to some extent financially. When I was married my ex managed to spend whatever I earned like it would never end. But, as you know, when you are broken down physically and emotionally and the economy is in the dumper, there is an end; there is a bottom.
I am going to take your advice. For an office geek I am quite handy and outfitting a van could be therapeutic, in itself. I should be thankful I am in good health and actually have ‘some’ savings. In many ways I am better off than I was 25 years ago. For that I am thankful and even blessed. You’re a good man Bob.
Gary, I am very glad to be of help in any way I can. Let me make one more suggestion, I think it would be good to join my forum and make friends there. As you progress in your new hobby, ask questions and get some advice. There are many really good people there and making connections with others is always a good thing.
Who knows, there may be people near you who you can get to know and even meet. Becoming a vandweller has made me so many new and really wonderful friendships, it is really amazing. Maybe even give thought to coming out to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) at Quartzsite, Az this January. More info here:
My husband and I are looking into RV full time living when he retires in a few years. Our own fault but our income with retirement isn’t grand and we love to travel.
Our youngest has been working/not working since he left home ten years ago and we have been trying to help him but he is in WORSE shape now then when he started. No sign of paying us back and no sign of getting better we gave him his last loan. Sometimes I feel that we as parents do way TOO much and hinder their growth. I hope the best for him but enough is enough.
Our oldest son and his wife both are working and prospering. Go figure.
We are selfish I guess in planning to get a nice RV and to travel where it is warm. LOL.
Loved your article.
Hi Susie, I am in much the same situation. I have two sons, one is doing really well and the other is struggling. I wish I had some advice to offer you but I don’t know what to do any more than you do. You do have to take care of yourself, you’ve worked hard and got them raised and now it’s time to start thinking about yourself, I don’t think that’s selfish at all. BUT, ultimately they will always be more important than anything else in life. Finding the balance is extremely difficult, I wish you the best.
It’s possible to RV on a pretty small amount of money if you embrace a frugal way of life like bonndocking. Bob
Hi again Bob,
I’m hoping to embrace ‘boondocking’! I’ve been in this big house with all the heat, water, lights etc. I have desired but I can adapt. It will take time but I plan on learning how to use WAY less water and to stop STOCKING up every time I shop along with a lot of other things to learn I’m sure.
I appreciate your reply and I’m hoping the best for you.
Damn Bob another Grand slam out of the park blog… Though we have small differences of opinion, I do think in all of our deep conversations I have never heard this subject put in a nutshell as you have just done… Kudos to you Bro on another eloquent prose…
PS Well the hunters are upon us… Spotted that lil 3-4 point Buck this morning, he is still kicking and with giving hunters bad advice on what is about, he should make it another year or more…
Thanks for the kind words Steve. I really miss being back their with you guys! I think often of your saying “4 white walls and a talking box.” That’s just what my life has become. Living in a house just saps all the energy out of me, I don’t understand why.
Can’t wait to get back and see you-all again! Bob
Bob, no four walls or talking boxes up here, just blue skies and sunshine and Homer and Tony and I waiting for you to come home. Great blog as usual. Love you, Cheri
It’s been really wonderful to visit with my mom and son, but I miss the forest and my friends. See you very soon! Bob
Well today is the day you make your return, as a matter of fact you are probably flying at this moment from Alaska… you will soon be “Home” and amongst friends and family..
I’m Home! I love my mom, but I hate living in a house! Very glad to be home. Bob
Bob, Thank you for your blog and for your terrific websites. I find them helpful and heartening. I should have written to thank you before now.
I am prompted to write today to take issue with a part of your most recent blog entry in which you criticize capitalism for the greed and selfishness so prevalent today. I think you are using the wrong term, and that doing so could create some misunderstandings.
Let me suggest that capitalism is not to blame. Capitalism does not drive people to greed or selfishness. In fact, capitalism can be, and is, a potent force for good because all capitalism does is organize economic resources based on the choices we each make (through the market). This is the “invisible hand” Adam Smith wrote about centuries ago. At core, capitalism gives us what we want (at least most of the time).
The alternative, usually, is some sort of direct government intervention which, I would suggest, has NEVER, in all of our long human history, led to greater happiness or freedom. Government intervention just forces us to accept something other than what we want, usually with the justification that it is better for us, or for society, or for the world. The rub, of course, is that someone else is making that decision for us ~ we lose the freedom to make it for ourselves. And that is usually not the path to happiness, or fulfillment, or satisfaction.
Incidentally, the culprit today, I would suggest, is materialism ~ an excessive focus on things ~ wanting them, getting them. Materialism, distinct from capitalism, can be very damaging and, I suggest, is a defining characteristic of our times. Materialism has crowded out compassion, spirituality and self-sacrifice to create a Gimme, Gimme, Gimme culture.
I think that helps to explain much of the lack of empathy in our increasingly over-protected and pampered children. How can we expect anything of them now when we have never helped them to expect more from themselves than raw materialism.
OK, your blog and my comment has now run on and on. Please keep in mind the comedian Dennis Miller’s admonition ~ This is just my opinion, I could be wrong.
And thanks again for everything.
Hi Bill, thanks for the well-reasoned comment. For the most part I agree with all you said. I think every other economic system will fail because they ignore basic human nature while capitalism appeals to it. And I also agree that capitalism doesn’t create the greed (it’s already basic human nature) it merely creates the avenue to feed it. The mass media is the main culprit in the tremendous upsurge in consumerism and materialism we see today. But I consider it to be part and parcel with capitalism.
I don’t have any suggestions on ways to improve it, in fact I hold a pretty bleak view of the future. I do think that we have found a great way to live by vandwelling! Bob
Thanks for your post. I feel a kinship with you all out there and even though I live in a a house (really a converted chicken coop) and have no wheeled home as of yet, I embrace simplicity and am able to live comfortably. Since I never bought a house I didn’t have one to lose when I lost my job two years ago! After a year of no work I finally retired and am a happy camper. A small pension to be sure but I don’t need much so it’s all good. I salute you!
Welcome Shelly! Thanks for the kind words. It sounds like you’ve coped really well with the hard times life has dealt you. Like I say all the time, vandwelling isn’t about the vehicle, it’s an attitude, and I think you fit in here perfectly! Bob
Bob, thanks for the invitation. Very nice of you.
Happiness is wanting what you already have. I’ve learned that!
A lot of people forget that oil was $10/bbl in 1998. It’s only going to get more expensive over time. I have to agree with you that this is no ordinary recession, this is a game changer and I know a lot of kids coming out of college these days will have a lot less stuff than their parents had. And maybe that’s not so bad.
I’m no psychic, but I think we are still in for a rough ride. Like you, I’m hoping good things are waiting for us on the other end, even if they don’t look so good for us right now. Bob
You’re welcome in my camp, too, when I finally get there.
You have done an excellent job of explaining my attitude. I need enough money to keep me fed and sheltered; beyond that I begin to lose interest. I especially agree that the materialism/capitalism taken to its current extreme has blocked people’s natural desire to help each other.
So I sit here and work toward food and shelter and a liveable vehicle. My theme song lately is “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon. Thanks again for writing this clear explanation of the outlook we all share here.
Calvin wrote: “I especially agree that the materialism/capitalism taken to its current extreme has blocked people’s natural desire to help each other.”
Thanks for the kind words Calvin, and you are very welcome. I think you make a very good point that it is materialism/capitalism carried to its extreme that is causing the problems. There is certainly nothing wrong with the idea of improving your life. That has been the secret of the success of this country, everybody got a chance to better himself. And traditionally it has always been with the idea in mind of “so my children will have a better life than I did.”
The problem is we all have a pretty good life. Even the poor among us live better lives than most of the people in the world. So the emphasis has changed from a better life for my children, to a luxurious, magnificent life for me and my children. I think we are seeing that is not good for our mental, emotional or physical health. Bob
Bob, what a wonderful article ! I think you hit it right on. I also am someone that doesn’t see things getting better in the near future of in the future at all. I think life in this country is, and will continue to, taking a different course and many of the things we have become used to simply won’t be there anymore. Since our country has by far exceeded the age of an empire I wonder what the future holds for it. I think the people that don’t prepare for a life of self sufficiency will have the most troubles. As we watch the price of goods and services increase I can’t help but notice the price of cargo trailers, vans, campers, and motorhomes are rising considerably. Even the junkers are costing more. That makes me think the vehicles suitable for vandwelling are having a big demand.
I think more and more people are facing up to reality that their survival will depend on a change of lifestyle.
Your blog, forum, and websites are truely a wealth of information and blessing for everyone wanting to learn a new lifestyle. Thank you for your efforts and excellent teachings.
Thanks for the very kind words Tim! I think you are right, many, many more people are going to be forced into a much simpler life. My goal is to help them make the transition as easily as they can and hopefully eventually find joy in it, just like so many of us have.
But even if we are wrong, and the economy turns around and we return to full economic health, some of those people will have found a new way of life that brings them greater happiness. And that is a very good thing. Bob
I bought a house for 100,000 Dollars ,knew I couldn’t keep it up so I planned to sell it and buy a brand new cargo van to fix into a rolling home. When I could only get 56,000 for the house, no worries. Van cost 27 thousand, “customization ( hightop, insulation under plywood interioer, shelves, small closets, my collection of wooden milk crates serving as storage containers) cost 10,000. Now I am free. I admit, my former life as a Girl Scout, where I found primitive camping to be my favorite way to live, then being a cook on a crowded sailboat makes the transition easier. Using a sawdust filled bucket as a bathroom, going without showers for a few days at a time, eatting alot of peanut butter and crackers seems to me a small price to pay for freedom and not spending money on useless stuff. I can sing to myself for entertainment, use library computers for e-mail and house sit for money for gasoline and food. Van living is all in the attitude. The same scenario can be looked in two (or more) ways. Is peanut butter poverty food or is it freedom food? Is singing to your self bad music (because some jerk when you were young said Shut Up, or is it a true expression of the real you? You are as wonderful as you are!
There are philosophies out there that teach the beauty of simplicity. The simpler you allow your life to be, the more freedom and happiness available for you. Good luck to all who choise the van dweller path!
Wow, that was very well said Kitty! Peanut butter and jelly as freedom food. I really like that! I have to admit it, I tend to collect stuff. Even now I have more stuff than I should have. Every so often I go through it all and get rid of a bunch of it and i ask myself “Is this thing worth giving up my freedom for”? That gives me the strength to get rid of it.
From now on, when i get tired of my bland diet, I will remind myself that it isn’t bland, it’s Freedom Food. In fact there will probably be a blog post by that name very soon. I hope you don’t mind if I quote from your comment? Bob
Love this article Bob. I have been thinking a lot about you lately………..I wish you could get a Reality Show on TV started for vandwellers. Maybe you could contact someone. it is a thought anyway!
I am still in a stick house, struggling away, but if nothing else I would love to live in my short bus part of the year. perhaps I may have to full time one of these days. I have been homeless……not even a card board box lol. And it is strange isn’t? One of my sons, I was joking about living with them, and he said No Way? gee not sure what brought that on oh well……My sister lives with my Mother and when my other sister said she may have to camp out there too when her unemployment runs out,the first sister said No Way are you bunking with me……well I beg to differ!
I think your article explains what has happened to people.
Now let’s get that reality show in the works ok? LOL
“And now, heeeeeeer’s Bob….” It’s kinda got a ring to it!!! I don’t think so Cheryl, but thanks for thinking of me! There is no doubt that the extended family is breaking down, there are lots of studies showing that as a nation we are becoming more and more alienated from each other. The very strange thing is that since I became a hermit living in a van down by the river, I have made many more friends. Not just acquaintances, but real, genuine friends (some of them are even from Arkansas, if you can believe that).
For me, vandwelling has been very healing. Bob
Well Bob, as usual we agree in principle.
Sam, once again I am really glad you are here! You are a guy whose choices are quite a bit different from mine, but you are as genuinely happy and content with your life as I am with mine. Thank you for being such a good example!
There are many people who live “normal” lives for whom the American Dream really is a dream. It is the good life. It wasn’t for me, and I think it isn’t for lots of other people. But for the majority it probably is.
I tend to think in extremes and you help bring me back into moderation. From now on, before I publish something I will try to ask myself, “What would Sam say?!” Bob
So much of this blog and all its’ post hit home for me. All my current friends live in huge, expensive houses or in smaller but still expensive houses since retirement. they live a lavish lifestyle, many shop at costco or Sam’s and buy quanities of stuff that they will never use!
When I recently visited with one of my friends, I felt suffocated by her beautiful things she has in her home, and even more suffocated by the rules she had to live by in the very expensive retirement community she lives in.
I truly think she feels very secure with all of her stuff and the constricting rules on her freedom! I have “downsizing” since 2002, and I still have too much “stuff”, so I can understand how she feels about things. Her family is important to her too, but like so many of us who have children in their 20’s and 30’s, they are about as selfish as they can get and only seem to appreciate mom when they want something from her. My friend knows this and takes comfort in her “things”.
I am happier now than ever, and will be even happier when I have even less!
Trisha, your compassion for your friend comes through loud and clear in your comment. Even though you think and feel differently than she does, instead of passing judgement on her you feel empathy for her situation. I think you raise a very important point. We live in very difficult times emotionally and whatever gets us through the day (as long as it doesn’t hurt others of course) is okay. If that huge house with all its rules and all of its stuff brings her comfort and makes her life better, I’m very glad for her.
We aren’t right and “they” aren’t wrong! We’re just different people with different needs. I’m very glad you have found a a path that makes you happy! Bob
Your analysis is spot on, as usual. I think the pathology in cities is greater than in rural areas. Rural people might be shorter in physical possessions than urban people, but rurals have a better network for support. Not always, but generally better than what urban/suburban people have.
I live in the Richmond-Boston megalopolis. In my opinion the stress here has become impossible to endure without the aid of drugs. Big pharma knows it and you can see it has prepared; cable TV is loaded with solutions for erectile dysfunction, sleep apnea, “anxiety”, restless leg syndrome, and the rest. It is a big racket and big business lobbies for laws that decrease personal freedom.
The origin of the stress is overpopulation. Just about every pathology in the city comes from a high density. Some races handle it better than others. The government-corporate monster knows it and that’s why it jams 1 million more hominids into the U.S. every month, and refuses to seal the border. It’s good for business and bureaucracy.
There are cheap drugs to take you up, like Red Bull, and there are professional drugs to float you. I used grass for about two years until it didn’t work any more. The only way out is to adjust to your environment; if you can’t adjust, you face destruction. Big Pharm knows it. So those who can’t exit the scene take the drugs.
Two other phenom contribute: multiple races thrown in together, and the destruction of the agora. Empathic communication decreases between individuals who are of different races, in my opinion, and so does the verbal, and so also between groups. And personal comm devices have just about destroyed the public spaces. In the old days parks, cafes, taverns, libraries, museums, markets were gathering places. Dialogue on politics and social affairs, neighborhood intelligence, economic advice and so on were exchanged. Men and women met and became couples. People found information and help. The portable communication device has about wiped all that out.
In my opinion society in the U.S. will be the first to unravel. Outside the shelter of ones home the world has become insufferably rude and hostile and impersonal. I don’t even want to go out any more. I don’t want to drive and I hardly want to speak to anyone. I don’t want it that way but this is what my environment has made me.
When the economy goes really bad, people without support from family or friends, as you mentioned, will lash out, and that’s when the social fabric will rip. There will be hundreds of thousands of homicides and assaults, much of it stress relief. In my opinion, the only solution is exit from urban areas.
Hi Dave, while I can’t agree 100% with everything you said, I do agree 100% that the best thing is to get out of the urban areas, especially the big city and back to nature. I just read a book called “Your Brain on Nature” and it compiles some of the thousands of scientific studies and research that proves that being in nature has a huge impact on our mental, emotional and physical health and that being separated from it leads to more depression and anger–two things that are rampant in our country. In many of the studies simply spending time in nature had as big an impact on mood as did the drugs we are taking for it.
I can speak for myself when I say that in the last 4 years since I have been living on public land there is a day and night difference in my moods and mental and emotional state. I recommend it to everybody!! Bob
Well after much looking I eventually got my van. I managed to find an E350 with a Quigley 4×4 conversion and the van is lifted as a part of the conversion.
I took the van down to a stream that runs through one of the areas in one of our suburbs. It has a walking path etc. and people swim when its hot. Parked the van where some other vehicles were parked, opened the doors facing out to the stream and relaxed.
Not even 10 minutes and here comes the police looking in the door. Someone reported the van! Police checked my drivers license, apologized and left. Do we live in a totally scared and cowering society or what. It’s really sad.
Andy, first and foremost, congratulations on finding such a great van, I’m green with envy! I’d love to have a Quigly conversion! But you are right, modern society has filled our live with fear. It’s such a paradox, we live one of the safest nations in the world, but we are more fearful than ever. The safer our lives become, the more afraid we are.
I live what most people would consider a very dangerous life, but virtually all my fears have dropped away. I believe that once you embrace a life of adventure, life becomes so much fuller there is no room left for fear. Risk taking (in moderation) is good for the soul!
It sounds like you are headed toward a very healthy soul Andy! Bob
Fantastic post, Bob. I’ve been inspired by this post and compiled the best 15 tips for saving money whilst RV’ing on my blog: http://greenminimalism.com/2013/06/03/the-ultimate-guide-of-cutting-rv-expenses-15-quick-tips/
I saw that post Eric and it is a good one!