Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Maximal Minimalism

Hey! Come on, I NEED this stuff!

Hey! Come on, I NEED this stuff!

Having had the opportunity to simplify my life over the last couple of years, the process has revolutionized it. In my stick and brick days, I was a pack rat, you see. Liking to create, cobble together or modify things leads to a “Hmmm, I might be able to use that someday” outlook. My store of screws, bolts, nuts, washers, brackets and so on was impressive. But I hardly limited myself to that.

I tend to be most interested by anything that was cutting edge in its own day. I once owned two IBM portable (briefcase-sized) 386 computers, complete with internal and external upgrades that made them more adaptable to different tasks. They had a different internal board architecture that let them multitask faster than normal 386’s, so naturally, I just had to put them to actual use and thrash them to put these thoroughbreds through their paces. I had picked up each of these suitcase Transformer-like relics for $100 at a time when fast Pentiums ruled the day. Portable computers throughout the 1980s were horrendously expensive affairs, but these 1989 state-of-the-art boxes began life at seven thousand, two hundred dollars each – before upgrades. That’s $13,600 in today’s dollars. That’s partly because the only available market at that time was business, not consumer, component costs were staggering, and the heavy units had to be designed for airline-rough handling. I wound up giving them to a man whose son was starting a personal computer museum of sorts, and he wanted to offer them as startup gifts. You see, a pack rat is simply a collector who has lost his focus. What the pack rat collects is of little value, but is retained for its potential usefulness in the future. In my case, it helps if it is a shiny object.

But as I said, the process of simplifying has revolutionized my life. Okay, well, perhaps more evolved it…by force. Alright, a small tweak then. I still accumulate the same crap, but on a much smaller scale, having gone from over 3,000 square feet to 200, plus the pickup truck’s bed and cab. And no rented storage spaces – that would be cheating. It’s hard to brag about being on the wagon when you’ve got a 55-gallon drum of whiskey tucked

away back home. I made that up. If I did have that, I wouldn’t tell you about it.

I used to assume that minimalism was about devotedly owning as few things as possible, including the complications that go along with technology. Small farmettes or rural cabins with very little furniture or clutter. Shelves of books, but otherwise sparse in a soothing way. Just like what you would see in Good Housekeeping, but with even less to tastefully arrange. Candles or solar for lighting, hand pump for water in the kitchen or a few steps outside. Kind of like being Amish and for the same reasons, but without faith as the end target. But the method remains: discover and get rid of what distracts you from your quest.

Then I noticed that people began bragging about how little they had, instead of how much they had. Now they were struggling to keep down with the Joneses in order to elbow their way up the status scale. Own less than 100 or even 50 things, urged the overachievers. Owning a home would encourage pack rat-ism to maintain it, and admittedly vapid TV would feed only the lurid impulses to own more unneeded things. Not owning things became an end in itself. Some people outside of downtown New York City began living like students inside downtown New York City, as if they had to downsize to two cubic yards of living space on penalty of an extra $1,000 a month rent. They boasted of how few square feet it took to make them happy – though they have upsized since. With storage bins, the necessity of the few gave way to the materialism of the many. “Minimalism” became the ability to shove more stuff into less living space than before, ending any need to consider those items’ personal value in the first place. Going by the numbers, the counter-revolutionaries have won.

True minimalism can have everything to do with what you own, how much you own or how big a space you live in. It can also have nothing at all to do with any such things. That’s because minimalism is not really about things, it’s about us as individuals, and about gradually and deliberately adjusting our lives in ways that allow us to begin and end each day with a sense of purpose, reward, and satisfaction. It’s about more thoughtful action and less reaction. It’s more about the abundance of true treasure than the denial of acquired objects. That becomes do-able when we begin to recognize those low-priority things or activities which distract and negatively pull at our time, attention, and resources. The goal is to go from playing a breathless “Whack the Mole” in survival mode, to taking a better-concentrated aim at what helps us pursue a life worth living. Half the battle is growing the ability to discern the wheat from the chaff. As far as I’m concerned, you can call it minimalism or hooliganism for all I care. Whatever gets you to a place where you’re able to pursue life with a conscious aim that feeds your unique needs.

Some feel that the pursuit of goods and luxurious lifestyles makes life worth living, so they aim for that, assigning a priority to it which overrules all others. As mentioned, a few do exactly the same thing, but march in the opposite direction with a pride of non-ownership. Some are convinced that life has no significance beyond the next meal or the next conquest, while others assert that human life has no more inherent value than a beetle’s. All of them offer online instructions on the best way for you to live. It is much more rewarding to determine for yourself what is of real value in your life, what feeds your thoughts, passions, and creative soul – and what distracts you and draws you toward the feeling of time spent counterproductively. Often, the problem is the value we attach to nonessential things, objects. When the value we attach to things is skewed, we tend to make the nonessential essential. One can be justifiably proud of a personal collection of things, but our usual tendency is to start with the 6oz standard serving and keep ramping up until we’re chugging a couple of the 64oz Super-Gigantos – and bragging about it. Then we wonder why we feel sick and listless, and why the only other people who seem impressed aren’t feeling much better.

What helps us to determine real value is a highly individual thing. In the press of life, merely sensing, testing, recognizing and separating the essentials from the unessentials can be a major victory. Friends and family are usually valued, but often lose priority when momentary push comes to shove. Humans tend to be (but are not always) social creatures, so building or sustaining beneficial relationships with others might be simple for some, and difficult for others. For some, it can be a project in itself merely to learn to separate healthy relationships from unhealthy or even toxic ones. Discerning such differences is more difficult in a life clogged by distraction and pressures.

Again, the means of how best to unclog and prioritize our lives is an individual thing. The solution isn’t to quit our jobs, but to clear our heads. The recognition of high value things is widely shared in common, but the environment needed to allow us to recognize and prioritize has much less commonality. Tasks that include creativity, or passion, or personal growth, direction, or purpose can have a high value. A sense of contribution is an enthusiasm builder for many. Only when we have an approach that works uniquely for us, are we able to calmly step back and take a look at where we’re throwing our time and energy. Many chimeras – critical goals that are suddenly revealed as comparatively meaningless – suddenly start dropping off their pedestals. What is left tends to be what is of enduring value to us, and is what we should re-prioritize our decisions and attentions toward. What is necessary for you to flourish? What is superfluous, or distracts you from things that you find are most inspirational or rewarding? This post isn’t a how-to. There are plenty of good resources for living live more deliberately, and for finding your path to do so.

But I will caution one thing. You are you. You are not some other person. You share many characteristics with others, but do not share quite a pile, too. The environment, the path, the methods that you most need to take your step back and align your head with your heart might be specifically the same as that which has proven helpful to someone else, but the odds are much greater that it won’t be. For example, problems tend to demotivate goal-oriented people, while goals tend to demotivate problem-oriented people. Insisting that all our problems will be solved by setting and achieving goals is helpful for most, but frustrating and highly counterproductive for the rest. In the same way, describing to a goal-oriented person pervasive problems that are stopping forward progress tends to overwhelm them and make them feel helpless instead of motivated to act. On a related vein, extroverts are energized by social interaction and drained by isolation, while introverts are just the opposite. Assigning one type as “normal” and the other as in need of becoming more “normal” is a helpfulness based on arrogance and/or ignorance. The “all people are like me…or should be” outlook is pretty pervasive. One size does not fit all, regardless of what you or I are taught.

So, when you look for advice or mentoring on how to employ some aspects of minimalism in order to gain focus and direction in the only life you have, simply look for a source of guidance or reference that focuses on the end goal – a life lived deliberately – rather than one lived in a consistent Pavlovian reaction to circumstances. It is best to avoid those who promote a lockstep march to attain it, a paint-by-numbers approach that is all laid out for you to follow. Our innate craving for an easy-to-follow formula is understandable – it is much easier to follow someone else’s footpath than to have to suffer the ordeal of blazing a new one in unfamiliar territory. We prefer spoon-fed answers, and by following someone else’s path, we can blame them if our trip doesn’t work out well for us.

When society’s accumulation of methods proves an ill fit for us in some way, our tendency is to simply look for another formula to swap in wholesale, without really thinking much about whether its fit is really that much better for us. After all, introspection and self-assessment are difficult, and are subject to risk and false assumption. But how much more so a formula that works for someone else and is promoted as a universal solution for all. Besides, you’ll find that the paint-by-numbers approach quickly centers on the proper application of paints as the satisfactory end goal, rather than on the steady progress toward a completed picture that reflects our own insights and values. Such a thing as a lifestyle is a tool which can be dropped and replaced with another as the need arises. When the tool becomes the elixir, the measure of success, the moral center of effort, then the end goal of what life could be in its fullest sense is effectively derailed. We cease work to admire the tool’s gleam, and the completion of the life we were outfitted for never comes.

So be wary of those who repeatedly urge you to conform to one lifestyle or one hijacked implementation of “minimalism” as a universal solution for everyone, hallelujah! Be wary of those who hide away the pitfalls and gloss over the drawbacks, eliminating rational consideration. That’s what used car salesmen and ministers of propaganda do. One example: In the 1970’s I had a cousin who, with his bride, moved into a sort of commune that resembled a housing subdivision in a very rural area. It looked oh, so normal on the outside. Everyone was very nice, very happy, and seemed to be living with a sense of purpose. There was a small plastics molding plant at the edge of this rural gathering, and the goal was to share with the commune one’s resources upon arrival in order to build and equip the plant, and to donate some time each week to running the plant, since this generated money for the commune’s purpose for existence. In a surprising parallel to the 1964 film Doctor Strangelove, that purpose was to save and preserve a tiny remnant of mankind that would survive the coming nuclear annihilation between the two superpowers, and begin repopulating the earth. They would do this by using the profits from the molding operation to fund the creation of two large orbital aircraft that would be equipped to sustain them during and after the nuclear exchange had its full effect. Naturally, I never did find out just how this rural group of survivalists proposed to research, design, build, and launch space-going vehicles among the vast cornfields. The guy who began this ambitious venture later got booted out for exercising his future onboard reproductive duties with more than a few wives of his little tribe way too early in the process. Then after awhile, he was forgiven his hedonistic instincts and let back in because he seemed to be the only one who could recouple the logic train of how this whole thing was somehow a good and workable idea. About this time, my cousin, sensing that the most accurate predictor of future behavior is past behavior, finally realized that Elvis had left the building, and bowed out.

Think my cousin was foolish? Perhaps you haven’t met one of these people, or think that you haven’t. After all, he was just looking for an alternate lifestyle that did not conform to society’s desire to stand by helplessly at the coming global disaster. The leader of the tribe fed on that fear and offered a challenging solution, a technological approach that seemed to be a potentially effective counter to the inevitable and uncontrollable global warfare that loomed only a few years ahead. He was willing to lead them, and they would benefit as his people. The fact that he got the better end of the deal is not surprising, but it’s worth noting that this leader was entirely sincere in his beliefs. It’s just that he cloaked them for trimmed versions that he knew would be less likely to alienate his followers and draw in more. In the end, the utter lack of any hint of progress after years of impending doom revealed his core beliefs as less egalitarian and more nonsensical than those surface inspirationals which he had been pitching all along. Being really good at winning friends and influencing people is a benign skill that can be used either way. Ask the associates of Mahatma Gandhi, and then ask the neighbors and momentary friends of John Wayne Gacy. It’s a choice.

Want to stop living in lockstep with a culture mesmerized by an endless desire for more? Feel off-center, or like life should have more simplicity or depth of meaning? Why are weather forecasts now hyped like upcoming disaster movies? Why do issues presented on radio or television appear tailored to herald the Apocalypse – and why do we now parrot them instead of poking fun? It takes some doing to break free. Now, I might occasionally share with you the ways that living as a hermit in a trailer have impressed or benefitted me – that’s part of the point of this whole blog – but I can’t seriously suggest it as a panacea for your ills, because how I live in order to end each day feeling on-track, pleased, or inspired would drive you nuts. Seriously. The trailer and the travel result in a lot of enjoyment and pretty pictures, but they are the means to an end that happens to work for me – for now. I present the good stuff to let you know that there are good things going on out here in Weird Lifestyles Land. And I whine about the mishaps to try to keep things in balance. Sometimes I get enthusiastic, but it’s not my goal to do a lifestyle sales job on you. I’m just impressed because sorting through things tends to present new opportunities and rewards that I always wandered right past in my former days. It’s not the trailer, or living in nature. It’s the increase in finding my bearings and in shaping a life which better suits me.

In time, this galavanting around may prove impractical for me, but the goal of finding ways that I can discover and hold on to my own core values and priorities will roll on into its next phase without a skip. The world will not end because I must change RV types or can even no longer travel at all. It will patiently wait for me to find new and unfamiliar opportunities. There’s more than one way to get to Wickenburg, Arizona.

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22 thoughts on “Maximal Minimalism

  1. I don’t know if I can ever explain quite how impactful this post was to me today. In many ways I too have been on a journey of discovery. Even before I was out here in the wilderness. Finding me in ways that I rarely did when I was in the work a day world.

    Your insights have helped me on my journey today. Thanks.

    • You’re welcome, Rachel. Since your life on the road is much more by dire necessity than choice, that and the fact that your simplest daily choices are infinitely more complex than the average vanner make “a life lived deliberately” take on a whole new dimension. Now that I think about it, you’re probably the best example of the pursuit of true minimalism that I’ll be likely to ever see. My hat is off!

      • Part of me wants to be just a little flip, curtsy and say ‘why thank you kind sir’ But the truth is your words brought a tear to my eye. That is probably one of the finest compliments I’ve had about the lifestyle that I am trying my best, not only to live with, but to really live well.

        So with the deepest curtsy, I most sincerely say ‘Thank you, kind sir’

  2. Hey Ed – you hit it just right! Thanks – this post is a reminder to me to look again and see how I’ve wandered off my own track – its too easy to let the outside influences be my guide instead of my own inner compass. Now for a little navel gazing for me.

    • Thank you, Pam. No relation to Ed, but I wish…sort of. Okay, maybe not.

      I think there is value in handy tips and advice for living on the road, but beyond that, it’s easy to fall into a funnel, and we land in the trap of wanting to meet the expectations of those around us, to fit in. Even the wide world of RVs is just as full of cliques as anywhere else, top to bottom. Some guiding RV websites glorify personal freedom and choice, breaking free of society’s expectations, yet are remarkably narrow in what their own acceptable choices of thought, belief, behavior, and rig style should be in order to fit in. It’s just our way. I feel it is more valuable in the long run to discover, discern and direct your own life and values yourself, than it is to simply trade straight jackets. My very best wishes to you in veering onto your own path today!

  3. Chris lemcke on said:

    one of your best!

  4. Chris lemcke on said:

    you took me to church

    • You got me by surprise on that one Chris, until I went back and reread the whole thing in one shot. Many of my more introspective pieces are actually written as “Notes to Self”, and this one is no exception. I adapt and publish them if I suspect anyone else might also benefit somehow, but I have no sense of that beforehand and actually expect at least a little blowback on these. Shows what I know. It does have more than a few strong parallels to how Jesus fleshed out a living model for those who are drawn to follow, and does have a few bits that smack of His nature (and which He encouraged we should take as our examples). Yet the pitfalls of not following one’s own faith in Him, setting aside personal (and Biblical) convictions in order to conform to the group’s, carries the same kinds of hazards as living a life borrowed from someone else. Then it’s both faith and life derailed.

  5. Very thought provoking post, I believe your best ever. I can’t help thinking that your words come to me at the perfect time in my journey to lead a good life. God has blessed me with your words and friendship.

  6. Linda Sand on said:

    One of the things I learned in my years on the road is there are numerous right ways to do this. I tried several of them and enjoyed each one. Thanks for encouraging everyone to find his/her own best way.

    • That’s a solid observation, Linda! And I suppose that getting to explore the benefits and demands of each different way could be like rediscovering even the same old route. What a wonderful way to get thoroughly spoiled!

  7. Rod Duell on said:

    Wow. That was intensely honest, insightful and helpful. Thanks.

    • Thank you, Rod. I may not always interpret situations accurately, or see all there is to see, but given enough laps around the track, some observations still deserve to be thrown out there.

  8. Scott on said:

    Very well said. Pass the Kool Aid, I’ll Join! 😀

    Seriously, you are right on target; Vandweller to Prevost, Cardboard box or the Biltmore Mansion. None of it matters if you are an unhappy “camper”. 😉

    I am an aspiring retired RV’er wanting desperately to simplify. I keep catching myself vigorously attacking, fanatically working towards that goal, only to realize I have a wonderful life now. 🙂 It’s just human nature, we always want to believe it’s better somewhere else.

    As they say, “don’t miss the journey for the destination”.

    • Good point, Scott. It rarely seems to sink in that the wonderful life is waiting inside and available, not in the bushes 1,400 miles away. And as you say, it’s often already there but unrecognized for one reason or another. I think environment can and does help, but I’ve also observed that it can also merely make the issues fester, and without resolution. Placing ourselves in situations where we can clear our heads is essential, but Part B is that we actually need to do that, not use it as a mask or shield to avoid taking ownership of whatever’s going on.

      By the way Scott, do you prefer grape or strawberry? 😉

  9. jr cline on said:

    Minimizing my life started out being about things. Then it moved to ideas and feelings. Then to creating in the new empty creative spaces and passing on the creations. I collect experiences.

    • Then you’re there, JR. Many of the kind of experiences I collect are the kind you hope you can laugh about later!

      • jr cline on said:

        I collect some of those too. I’m having an RV fridge experience now.

        • Fab! I’m not enthused about mine, since it takes two full days to get to 40 from a standing start, which is not the best if you’re adding a major load of groceries. It’s also sensitive to tilt for being able to hold temp at a given setting. At least a mechanic showed me how easy it is to scrape off the ignitor, for when the “check” light keeps coming on. If the thing ever dies outright, replacement is so expensive that I’ll have to figure out how I can maybe power a large 12V electric fridge, larger than the boxes that vanners use. Those cool quite quickly, if you have enough battery to keep them going regardless of weather. Still, what I have does work, and the price is right: “free!”

          • jr cline on said:

            What I have is working on AC. I think I fixed it. The LP gas leak sensor was turned off so I turned it on. That may fix the problem. I read that if the sensor was of so was the gas. I need to check the gas lines for air now. I don’t have a clue.
            I had a 12 volt fridge in my school bus. It worked great and was plenty big.

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