I’m a Mess…
Those close to me have known that for most of my life, I’ve been a pretty messy person. Clothes, shoes, books, and papers have consistently littered my bedrooms, desks, and cars throughout the years, and I know now that part of my messiness can be attributed to being overwhelmed with stuff.
And, to me, there was usually something better to do than to maintain and organize that stuff.
I sort of thought that being messy was a fault of mine, and that allowing my living spaces to be as scattered as my own brain meant that I didn’t care about my things. Did I care about not caring about my many possessions? Not really. And I don’t now, because I see that’s not really the case.
In fact, I actually believe that the overwhelming amount of stuff we accumulate is totally unnatural. Society tells us that we need the latest and greatest of every product, and that a person’s life is valued by what they have to show for it. In return, we are overwhelmed with things. Just things. And are these things ever enough to sustain us mentally or spiritually? I’m not sure.
It seems, actually, like the more stuff we acquire, the more stress it brings. Rather than pursue experience, we pursue unnecessary maintenance.
That’s why I love Henry David Thoreau’s statement, “I make myself rich by making my wants few.” In seeking less, we are rewarded with more. Inversely, the more materialism we crave, the more disappointment we invite. Life is more fulfilling when we remove the unnecessary stuff, therefore creating more time, energy, and means for experiences that are truly valuable.
I am not trying to imply that wanting more than the bare necessities for living is in any way less than ideal, and I am definitely not typing this from the top of a soap box. Like everyone, I have a long list of things I want and need out of this life, but I guess I just want to go about attaining those things differently than ever before, and I want to really reevaluate that list.
Once again, Thoreau says it best:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
So, Sean and I are trying to do just that: live deliberately.
The Minimalist Life
For us, practicing minimalism and mindfulness on this life rustic journey has actually come pretty naturally. Of course we have become minimalists, living with about 115 sq. feet makes it sort of necessary.
But, I think we both were always longing for this lifestyle and didn’t know it. Perhaps that’s why I never cared that much about my things being strewn about my bedroom — because maybe I just didn’t really care about having those things. Similarly, Sean requires very little to be content, and we both find the most happiness in being adventurers rather than being consumers.
It’s easier said than done, though. Living with less has definitely been a learning experience, and we are continuously adapting.
For example, we are still figuring out the best way to store our clothing in the closets and drawers that are mere fractions of the sizes we were used to. We started with a majority of our clothes in storage, and kept whatever we could fit into a 3×3 closet, small drawer, and a couple of shelves. But, as of today, we have gotten rid of most of the clothes we started with, and can manage our closet space much easier.
I’m down to about a fourth of the wardrobe I used to have, and I’ve never been happier with it.
Keeping less clothing means less laundry to cycle through, less space to keep organized, less stress getting ready in the morning, and more time, energy, and money for other things.
Now, closet space is only allotted for items that are either useful/needed or that are absolutely loved and worn. No more of that, “well, I’ll keep these jeans I never wear anymore because I MIGHT put them on again someday.” We keep only the items that we wear consistently, and buy only items that can be worn with things we already have.
My morning routine used to include more dress changes than New York Fashion Week, but now I think I could get dressed in the dark and still like what I have on.
Like I said, though, it’s not always easy. Do you have any idea how many pairs of snow boots I’d be buying if I had somewhere to put them? All of them. All of the boots.
That’s where the mindfulness comes in. Since our space is so limited, we have to really consider the implications of basically anything we bring into our tiny home. This means we have to be mindful of everything from the food we buy to the bedding we sleep in. It all has to be functional to this lifestyle.
In terms of buying food, we won’t be seen at the big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club anytime soon — we now buy in small, frequent increments.
Luckily for us, shopping for food that doesn’t come in bulk and doesn’t generate much trash means that we are eating healthier than before. We don’t plan on getting a microwave again, so we avoid most processed foods, and usually just buy food for meals that are cooked over an open flame. It’s still been warm enough to make many of our meals outside, and we even cooked our Thanksgiving dinner over a campfire.
Being mindful of what we bring into our home means that everything we own and use has it’s own purpose. Everything becomes a bit more valuable, it seems. Maybe not by mainstream standards, but I definitely see the concept in action within this lifestyle/community.
Just yesterday, for example, a neighboring camper here in the state park walked down and asked Sean if we had an extra hose he could use for a while, as his had frozen and busted overnight. We did have an extra hose, but we don’t use it as much as another, and Sean told him that if he needed one he could have it.
He politely declined, and only needed the hose for a few hours. When he returned, he brought with him a bundle of firewood to give to us and had replaced the damaged end of our hose with the newer end that he had taken off his broken hose.
That’s just one of many times on this journey so far, where the idea of something’s worth takes on a whole new meaning.
Being mindful goes beyond simply gatekeeping what comes into our home, though, and I consider it to be more about being aware of the goings on in life, and what comes in and out of it and why.
I’ve mentioned the ultra awareness of water sources that Sean and I have had to recently adopt, and I think that on some level, it makes us that much more invested in the current state of large scale versions of certain necessities, like water consumption and clean water availability.
Topics like the Dakota Access Pipeline or Flint water crisis come to mind, but I’m still trying to stay away from the soap box, so I won’t dive into all that.
“Paying it Forward”
I think being mindful of the goings on of life also includes being appreciative when things go right for us, and showing that gratitude in whatever way we can.
A few weeks ago, Sean and I had the camper in tow behind his SUV and me in my car, and stopped to fill up at a gas station. We were in a little mountain town outside of Pike National Forest, where the gas station closes soon after dark.
Like a genius, I locked my keys in my car.
The throwing of our hands in the air and the looks on our faces must have made the situation pretty obvious, because a woman sitting in a nearby truck poked her head out of the door and asked if we were locked out.
She and her husband own a mechanic shop right behind the gas station, and her husband offered to use a professional kit to get into my car. They were to their shop and back within a few minutes, and had my car unlocked not long after.
We offered to somehow repay them, but they only asked that we pay it forward when we get the chance.
Sean and I noted how just days before that incident, we had loaned the large car jack that we had JUST bought that was still in my trunk to a man and his boy who had blown a tire on the side of the winding road into Pike National Forest.
We had been the ones that time who had asked to pay it forward.
We find it uncanny that in all of these encounters we’ve had, the helping party provides exactly the kind of help that is needed and is in the exact right place at the exact right time. Perhaps I’m getting dramatically metaphysical, and I really shouldn’t be surprised by the camaraderie among people we encounter in this sort of lifestyle.
The community of people we interact with that live like we live has been a most generous and surprisingly diverse group, and we are truly very grateful to be part of it.
I meant to reel this in and wrap it all up quite a while ago, but I think I could ramble on and on about what we’re discovering in minimalism and mindfulness for much longer than needed. I really just love my oxymorons, don’t I? Too much minimalism.
I’ll just end with this favorite Thoreau-ism of mine. Might be a bit unrelated, but still a favorite: