Thursday, July 30, 2020

Why It's Healthier to Live in a Vacuum

I'm out of touch. I have no idea what's going on in politics, world news, or local news. I don't know which of my friends or family have changed their relationship status, are having a baby, have moved, or even if they've had a birthday recently. And I certainly don't know the latest celebrity gossip.

I also don't know about the latest gadgets for sale, the newest decorating trends, or the hottest clothing, make-up, or hairstyles. I don't know which recipes everyone's making, the latest fitness craze or the newest diet people are trying.

And this is the happiest I've been in a long time.

How to live your life in a vacuum

Tell everyone that you're taking a break. Or don't--it's up to you. You're not required to inform the public about your decisions for your life.

Stop logging on to social media. Delete it from all your devices and turn off email notifications. Better yet, delete your accounts.

If you're subscribed to any news outlets, shut down those subscriptions.

Don't watch the news on TV or read it online. If an app, like Google, is trying to give you "helpful" suggestions about articles you might be interested in, turn off those notifications.

While you're at it, unsubscribe to any emails that encourage you to buy things. Stop visiting their websites. If the stores are open, don't visit them, either. Make a grocery list, stick to it, and make that your only trip to buy anything.

You may or may not have noticed that this blog doesn't allow for comments. That's on purpose--nobody can leave spam, and nobody can put anything negative either. If someone has something positive to say, or they have a question, they're still more than welcome to email me directly. I just don't see the point in cluttering the blog with a comment section. This is a minimalist blog, after all. Not only that, but I don't write articles so I can display accolades and appreciation for them. I do it to share knowledge and try to help people, and I don't require praise in return.

If anyone you speak to starts to say "Did you hear..." politely but firmly cut them off. Tell them that for your own sanity, you don't want to know. And to please not bring up anything in the future, either.

My mom, who is retired, loves to spend time on Facebook, catching up on what the family is doing. We have a huge family so there's always something going on. Sometimes it's positive, but a lot of it is just drama. She used to try to tell me everything she'd found out, and I finally stopped her because it would put me in a bad mood to hear about it. I said, "Unless someone is born or dying, I don't want to know." I suggest you have the same conversation with all your contacts, particularly the ones who love to gossip.

Maybe that seems harsh. But I'll explain in a little bit why it's a good thing.

Overall, you're going to set some very strict boundaries for yourself and others.

Negative consequences of living in a vacuum

At first, you may go through withdrawal. You may wonder what's going on "out there," and maybe you even relapse and sneak a peek. Or you may find yourself getting caught up in a conversation that you didn't intend to have.

You're going to miss out on things. If you know people who only send invites to events via social media, you won't see them. People might even think that you're ignoring them. 

You'll also miss out on those convenient birthday notifications that Facebook and other apps give. I recently went on Facebook for the first time in over four months and discovered that my friend who died had left me a birthday message on there. His birthday is a few weeks after mine, and I, of course, missed both his message as well as the chance to wish him a happy birthday for the very last birthday he was alive.

A lot of guilt came up with this situation. But I did something very simple to help myself get past it instead of spiraling into more grief. I imagined myself having a conversation with Sundance and telling him how sorry I was that I didn't get his message or wish him a happy birthday. I pictured his response, which would probably be something like, "Awww, it's OK," followed by one of his big bear hugs (he was 6'5") and probably some clever but derogatory name for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg that he'd made up. Then we'd both laugh and everything would be fine.

Because that one moment--the missed birthday wishes--is just a pinpoint in time during our 25-year friendship. I knew him well enough to know what his response to me would be. And there is no way that either of us would let a little blip like that ruin our relationship.

I'm not going to lie and say that it doesn't still hurt to think I missed that chance to interact with him. But that's just a part of the grieving process, and something I'm willing to accept. The pain reinforces my commitment to honoring his memory by standing up against racism whenever I can.

Maybe, after a trial period, you will decide that you can't cut yourself off completely, but also don't want to go back to the same level of interaction you had before. But I encourage you to give this a real shot before you return to the status quo. Here's why.

Positive effects of living outside of society's influence

As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm a lot happier living this way. There are a lot of reasons for this.

For one thing, I used to tense up each time my mom approached me, knowing that she probably was going to repeat back the latest tidbits about our drama-filled relatives. She still forgets sometimes, but overall I'm less worried about what she'll say when she starts talking. This means I'm not going to dread her wanting to talk to me.

Statistically speaking, people love drama. That's why reality TV is so popular. There's a reason that tabloids have survived for so long and people can get thousands of dollars by selling a candid photo of a celebrity. It's why our favorite stories have what motivational speaker Lisa Nichols calls "the dip;" the low part of the story that builds up suspense right before the high point or "happy ending." 

But drama and negativity are stressful. It's exhausting to our mental health, immune system, and endocrine systems. Emotional stress can lead to physical illness, or exacerbate conditions that are already present. Reduce that stress, and your whole body (including your mind) will feel better.

My second reason for cutting myself off is that I no longer feel attacked, judged, or shamed about not conforming to other people's ideas of who I should be and how I should live my life. I don't spend my time comparing myself to others, who are blessed with a combination of good genes, luck, and enough free time to curate their feeds until they look like the perfect person. It's not real, but that doesn't stop our brains from thinking that it is, and feeling bad because of it.

The age of the internet and social media has led a lot of people to publicize their lives the way celebrities do--every little thing is documented for the world to see. But if you look at celebrities, they generally are not happy with being in the public eye 100% of the time. They try to disguise themselves or hire bodyguards to protect them from paparazzi and fans. When a new relationship or a breakup happens, they usually have to ask for people to respect their privacy. They don't broadcast their phone number or address. 

Sure, not everyone gets the same level of attention as an A-list actor, musician, or athlete. But anyone with a social media account who has enough people paying attention is at risk for the same level of scrutiny as a celebrity. Removing the temptation to share (or over-share) your life on the internet instantly solves the problem of people on the internet judging your life. I'm going to discuss this trend in detail in a future post.

It may not mean that judgy friends or family won't get to you, but at least this way they have less access. You can also choose to ignore their calls or emails for a while.

The last benefit of living in a vacuum is being more present in your life. Any smart dog knows how important it is to focus on the here and now because it's all we have promised to us. Humans have a lot of catching up to dogs in that aspect of life. The future is ever-changing and never guaranteed, and the past is done. I've done a lot of work on living in the moment in the past six months or so, and I know I feel much better for it. Dwelling on what could've been or what might be different have no place in my mind if I want to truly enjoy what's right in front of me.

Living in a vacuum isn't a perfect solution--you still have to deal with the enemy inside your head

I pride myself in being someone who generally does not care about the opinions of others, and who often goes against the norm. But that doesn't mean I don't feel any pain when I get criticized repeatedly for my decisions, or when people are trying to give me "helpful suggestions" about what I should do. Those words can stay with me long after they've been said. I'm sure I'm not the only one who can hear them playing back like a recording in my head when I'm not in a good place.

Everyone has a different threshold for how their life is molded by outside influences. There's nothing shameful in admitting that you value what others think, or take ideas you see and make them your own. The problem occurs when you feel like your life revolves around what others have decided for you, and you've lost yourself. If you can no longer tell whether you painted your wall "Robin's Egg Blue" because you like the color or because it's trending on Pinterest, there's a problem you need to address.

I like to think I'm impervious to what others think of me. But I'm still aware that it's only when I think of someone who doesn't live with me seeing my home, that I wonder if I've decorated it well enough. I usually only bother to change out of my pajamas and brush my hair when I have an appointment with a doctor or I'm going with Ryan to the store, which means I'm doing it for the benefit of the outside world, not myself.

But on the other hand, we still spent almost no money to completely furnish and decorate our space (more about that in an upcoming post), and I'm still perfectly happy wearing my 10-year-old clothing and thrift store finds when I go out. I also don't care if people think I'm antisocial because I sit quietly while my husband does all the talking. And maybe I'll get dressed for a video appointment with a doctor, but if I'm not feeling well enough to sit up, then they'll see me laying down on my bed when they come online.

Nobody fully understands the complexities of another person's life, so most of the conclusions that people come to are judgment calls biased by their personal experiences. There's nothing we can do about that; we just have to learn to accept that what others think is out of our control. However, we aren't required to live our lives based on their opinions.

You can be aware of insecurities or influences, but that doesn't mean they have to control you. By cutting yourself off from them, you can practice living life a life that's solely your own. Give it a try. See how much more free time you have, and how much lighter you feel when the shackles of the outside world fall away.

Why It's Healthier to Live in a Vacuum

Monday, July 6, 2020

How RV life helps you be more minimalist

I grew up in a house. I've owned houses, rented apartments, and just stopped living in an RV after nine years, including three years where we traveled full-time. So I've got plenty of experience with the unique ways that an RV contributes to minimalism--which go way beyond the size of the space. 

There are many resources out there about minimalism in houses or apartments. I think that subject is well-covered for the moment, so I'll let you peruse those if you wish. I'll delve into my experiences about staying minimalist in a house after RV life in future posts. But for now, let's focus on RVs and minimalism. 

What it's like living in an RV as a minimalist

In case you didn't catch it, I said I "just stopped living in an RV." This has been a long time coming, and not an easy decision to make. There are a number of reasons why it's the right choice for now, but it (hopefully) doesn't mean we're going to stop RVing forever.

The decision has nothing to do with the pandemic, either--it's something we were looking into since last summer. In fact, there has been a surge in "pandemic palace" sales because many people realized that RVs are a great way to continue social distancing but still be able to travel. But the reasons why aren't really relevant to this post, so let's move on to what it's like.

Whether an RV is big or small, motorized or towable, there are a few constants that every RV dweller has to deal with:
  • Every time an RV travels, it's like putting the rig through an earthquake. So ideally, everything should be put away or attached to something when you're on the road. And just like when you move from one house to another, even the most carefully-packed items can break in transit. Would you risk bringing your grandmother's fine china with you in the car every time you left the house? Probably not. The rattle factor limits what you can bring in an RV--a plus for minimalists who focus on minimal possessions.
  • Each vehicle also has weight limits, and exceeding these limits can put dangerous amounts of stress on the axles and tires, increasing the risk of a blowout. In our experience, you can usually fit more stuff in an RV than you safely should for weight considerations. So keeping the storage half-empty is better for safety and makes you naturally more minimalist!
  • It's fatiguing to pack up your whole life each time you have to move the RV. Not necessarily if you rarely move, but if you change spots every day or two, you are going to get tired of spending an hour or two putting stuff away each time. Especially if you have better things to do, like earn an income, take care of your family, or go out into the world. What's great about RVs is how most of them are designed with tons of built-in storage space. This makes it easier to keep things organized and behind closed doors, where they are less likely to get damaged. Ryan and I got into a routine of having less stuff but also putting things away immediately after use. During the time when we traveled often, it took us about five minutes (often less) to get ready to leave. This habit was reinforced with the reward of wasting less time packing.
  • Since RVs are heavier than an average passenger vehicle, fuel consumption is typically higher. From both an eco-minimalist and financial minimalist standpoint, there are pros and cons to RV travel. We found that compared to when we commuted to work in a car (just one car for the two of us), we drove much less in our RV lifestyle. So while each trip we made with an RV used more fuel because of the weight fo the RV, over the course of the year we traveled fewer miles than when we drove to jobs. It's also possible to travel in ways that reduce your carbon footprint and save you money--you just have to do some advance trip planning.
  • Speaking of one's carbon footprint--the smaller square footage of an RV means that there's less space to heat and cool than a typical home. On the flip side, approximately 100% of RVs have thinner, less-insulated walls, roofs, and floors than your average sticks-and-bricks home. So unless you aren't bothered by extreme indoor temperatures, your climate control system will be running a lot if you stay in hot or cold places. If you're hooked up to electricity at a park, it's possible to pay just as much (or more) than you would on standard house utility bills. Many RVs also use propane to run the furnace, which is an additional cost and more fossil fuel use. The beauty of RV life is that you can change locations as desired, so you can live in your ideal climate year-round. This is called "following the weather" or being a "snowbird." This freedom is in my top five reasons why I loved being an RVer--life just feels better when you can choose to live in the climate you like best, year-round. You can also add a solar power system to help offset your electricity use, although it's difficult (and more expensive) to set up a system that can run an air conditioner.
  • RV pipes are a smaller diameter than house plumbing, and cannot withstand the same amount of water pressure. Additionally, a typical RV hot water heater is exceedingly small (6 gallons is the norm, or 10 gallons if you're really lucky). All this means you're more likely to use less water. This is especially true if you choose to camp without water hookups. It becomes second nature to never leave the water running while you brush your teeth, wash dishes, or even take a shower. If you want to increase your water conservation as part of your eco-friendliness, an RV will get you accustomed to some of those habits.
  • When you visit a campground in an RV, you're just renting a spot, but during that time it's your home. You naturally have concerns for the appearance of the campground--namely, you don't want to see trash lying all over your "yard." I think RVing makes people who love nature want to take even better care of it, and more conscious of how their actions impact the environment. Not only do you make sure to pick up your own garbage, but you pick up everyone else's, too. Sadly, this isn't the case for everyone--there are still plenty of people who live in RVs and litter. But hopefully, they are the minority.
  • If you want to be more minimalist as a way to spend more time with the people you live with, traveling in an RV is certainly one way to do it. For better or worse, personal space and separation are cut down dramatically in an RV. If you move around a lot, you'll be socializing with each other more than anyone else by virtue of not knowing anyone in places you visit. But even if you are stationary, when you're in the RV, you're only steps away from each other. Managing this closeness successfully could mean finding new ways to have alone time and deal with conflict. This micro-sized habitat can magnify positive bonds as well.   
  • "Resetting to zero" is a term used by Colin Wright, author of books such as How to Travel Full-Time and Becoming Who We Need To Be. In his blog, Exile Lifestyle, Colin talks about how at least once per week he resets his home to its "resting state." This means cleaning all surfaces and putting everything away. Getting his inbox to zero (a goal I would love to start striving for) and checking off any urgent items on his to-do list. Colin says that if you aren't a minimalist, this reset is a great way to get a taste for what minimalism feels like. Well, imagine how much easier it is to reset to zero in a tiny space like an RV. Most of the time you can deep-clean the interior of a rig in an hour or two.
  • RV travel gives the opportunity to explore new places while still living your day-to-day life. It reduces or eliminates the hassles and discomforts of sleeping in strange beds, lugging around suitcases, and dealing with airport security. You also can take your time visiting, because you don't have to worry about using up all your vacation days. Any day you can achieve a balance between how you make money and how you spend your free time, it's like going to work and then being on vacation five minutes later--all in the same day. It's so much more relaxing when you are someplace new but still have the comforts of home. The peace of mind this type of living provides gives you a sense of freedom because you aren't taking up your time and emotions worrying about what you left behind "back at home." And freedom leads to a feeling of control over your life and how you lead it--a penultimate achievement in minimalism.

Related posts:

What is an Eco-Minimalist? 


A summary of my thoughts on minimalism as an RVer

Overall, I think being in an RV can make minimalist aspirations more efficient. There is less chance that you will hold on to things you don't need. If you're unsure whether your possessions or hobbies are really important to you, a few months of shuffling items around to get to other stuff should help clarify that. 

If you're like me and having an uncluttered space helps your mind feel uncluttered, then RV life can get you to that clearheadedness faster. You're forced to find a home for every single item, so it doesn't become a projectile during travel. Knowing where each possession you own lives when not in use makes it so much faster to put things away. You also spend less time trying to find lost items since there are only so many places you can look (although it's still completely possible to misplace things!). In short, you can easily set up your life to be cleaner and more organized than it ever could be in a bigger place.

You'll also find out quickly which relationships are built to last. Superficial connections probably won't survive when you leave people behind to travel and have to make an extra effort to keep in touch. The same goes for spending 23 hours per day with your significant other five feet away. But you can also build more friendships with people you'd otherwise never have met. And you can strengthen ties with previously-distant relatives if you add visits to them along your travel route.

As for costs, aesthetics, and environmental concerns, there are lots of tweaks you can make with an RV lifestyle, the same way you can with a house. I mentioned water conservation, solar, and trip planning before. Lots of newer RVs are also built using eco-friendly materials--our last two RVs were certified green. The tiny spaces are harder to ventilate, so you may find yourself switching from harsh, smelly cleaning products to something gentler (and cheaper) like diluted vinegar.

Even something as simple as owning a smaller trash can will make you more conscious of how much waste you're producing. And the first time you're parked next to a hoarder who's got junk piled both inside and outside of their RV (we dubbed them "Fortresses of Solitude"), the aversion you feel will make you want to never be that type of RV dweller.

There are even ways to modify the space if you have physical limitations. People replace their steps with ramps or add wheelchair lifts. Small areas are fairly simple and cheap to remodel. If you're handy, so you can raise or lower countertops, make walkways wider, and replace fixtures with more ergonomic ones without breaking the bank. Even if you just want it to look prettier, you'll need smaller quantities of materials to get the job done.

No, RVing is not for everyone. And there are a lot of things that are different in an RV from a house that could be dealbreakers for people. But as someone who's been an RVer for many years, I can tell you it's my first choice for a living space. And I know I'm not the only one who feels that way!

Being in an RV can make minimalist aspirations more efficient.