“What’s it like living in a camper?”
Sam and I get asked this all the time. We usually say something noncommittal like, “Oh it’s fine,” or “You know, pretty great.” In reality, I think this move may end up being one of the best decisions of our life together.
A few things set this lifestyle apart. They are the unique challenges of camper living, but also the experiences that we believe are strengthening our relationships and character. Let’s go ahead and put them in a list. (people love lists, right?)
In downsizing, there is frustration, but there is also freedom. Moving into the camper, we had the challenge/privilege of getting rid of our “stuff.” Even in our less than two years of living in our first home, we had acquired so much… crap. I’m not sure what else to call it. At the time, with all that space to fill, those things seemed like an important part of our life. But now, without them, what has really changed?
I wouldn’t say we have achieved minimalist status yet. We kept a good amount of stuff in boxes back in PA for the potential day when we have a house again. The more time we spend living in the trailer though, the more I forget what is even in those boxes. We still have what I would call too much. We’re constantly looking for a new spot or a way to make another nook serve a purpose. But letting go has become something that feels good instead of scary.
Our best advice on downsizing is to do it several times. Take on one room at a time and go through everything – keep, store, release. Then do it again. And then one more time. You’ll truly feely your addictions and insecurities. After you’re done feeling dirty about how madly in love you are with things, you get to enjoy saying “this is all I need” (and in reality it’s still more than you need.) For us, it brought us closer to being able to say, “God, you are all we need.”
One beautiful thing is that now we know our life together isn’t built on objects or a physical foundation. We did love having a house where we could serve others and people were always welcome. Being there let us establish roots and a community (that we miss every day.) But in the letting go, we have been forced to trust God and rely on each other. When the setting is constantly changing and you strip away those extra comfort things, you turn to relationships and people become the center of your life.
On a similar note, 70 square feet is not the Taj Mahal. Pro: It is amazing to only have one room to clean. Con: There is only one room. You sleep in it, eat in it, work in it, get ready for the day in it, relax in it (just kidding we don’t relax.) For the most part, we enjoy the functionality of our space. We’re used to it and we like it. But then there are the days when we really “feel the space.” Usually it’s when Sam is editing and dinner is cooking so the toaster oven takes up the whole counter and ingredients are everywhere and I’m trying to mop the floor because I can’t eat dinner when the floor is dirty and Peyton is running back and forth and knocks down the fold-up table and something spills or shatters. I have never had a better look in the mirror than recognizing how out of control I feel in those moments. There’s a running joke that if you pray for patience, God will give it to you. So, if everyone could stop praying for patience for us, that would be great.
The positive half of this situation is that usually (when I’m done crying) we have a good laugh about it and try to spend more time outside. Feeling cooped up reminds us that we are meant to be outside and that our lifestyle allows us to do that. And you truly can’t take yourself too seriously when you are balancing mixing bowls on the space heater.
As much as you can, keep your space clean. I am the number one culprit of the mess in our trailer; I leave a trail of chaos everywhere I go. But, it really does help to take 20 minutes and put everything away. In a camper, everything must have a place. Try as much as possible to only use the space for one purpose at a time. (this is a kitchen, now it is an office, etc. – instead of this is a kitchenofficebedroomplaypen) Go outside whenever possible. Oh, and don’t be afraid to use the bathroom as a panic room. A toilet doubles as a chair when the lid is down.
Of all the expensive counseling and self-help books in the world, nothing will impact your marriage quite like parking a travel trailer. I’m sure there are important lessons about teamwork and communication in here somewhere, but mostly you will just know the taste of rage and someone will end up spending some time in the “panic room.” If you are still married when the trailer is where it needs to be, congratulations. You’re going to be just fine.
It feels amazing to know that this is our home. It’s teensy and 40+ years old and something is always broken, but it is ours. When asked, we always recommend choosing an older RV/camper that you can reinvent. It certainly won’t save you much, if any, money (see this blog), but there’s nothing quite like looking around and realizing you crafted something you love.
Our three top tips for your home on wheels of choice: make it functional, choose amazing colors, and violently remove any and all carpeting. Transitional features sound great, but consider whether you are actually going to want to convert your bed into a table every day (nope.) Think about the purpose of every space and object, and if it doesn’t have one, set it on fire. Or, just get rid of it, that works too. A coat of white paint changes everything. Any chance you get to make the space brighter, do it. And as far as carpet goes, just get rid of all of it. Trust me.
There are a lot of reasons we love camper life. It helps us focus on what’s important. We get to see amazing things all the time. Even with the chaos, it’s a ton of fun. But one of our favorite things is that we get to be part of a huge community of people who have also decided to be done with the way life is “supposed” to look.
Making the camper our full-time home has, at times, been a source of anxiety for us. We’ve worried a lot about what people think and whether it was a responsible decision. I consider those completely healthy reactions and I hope that anyone considering a giant life change thinks about those things a little bit. For us, those were insecurities we had to come to terms with so that we could pursue the work we had to do.
I often look to the story of Moses in those times of fear. When God asked him to go to Pharaoh, Moses didn’t just feel unqualified, he was by most standards actually not the best man for the job. He was probably going to look stupid. He would probably not be able to do it alone. There was a really good chance that he would mess it up big time. People people probably thought Moses was a little crazy. Moses had ONE MILLION excuses. But, in the end, God worked through him. (There was some other complicated stuff in the middle there, but you get the idea.)
Living outside of the standards we know are expected of us is very nerve-wracking. We definitely have those moments of “we should probably be focusing on careers and buying a house and thinking about the future” and even more frequently find ourselves thinking “is this really what we should be doing with our lives?” But I know that because there is fear in this, there is freedom in it. If it all felt easy and safe, how much could it shape our lives or change our hearts?
I think living in the trailer is a “camp” experience for us. Camp draws us out of our element. It takes away the things we have built up and know to be true. It makes us recognize our addictions and insecurities and lack of control. In all of that is when we see clearly, build foundations in people and relationships, and trust God the most. Maybe in making camp our lives, it became our distraction and dependence, so God had to take us out of that safe space for transformation to happen. If that’s the case, I’ll take the paring down and the uncomfortable moments and the uncertainty, because I know what God can do through camp.
I have to confess something; I sometimes think that God doesn’t care.
I am not among the people who hear God’s audible voice, and sometimes I find myself screaming WHERE ARE YOU up into the sky (as if God is sitting on a cloud or something laughing at me.) But I also know God IS there and that He does want a relationship with me. I just sometimes I only know that in my head instead of in my heart.
Christians spend a lot of time and heartache comparing our experiences, and I think we start to assume God loves other people more. God speaks out loud to that girl… He must love her more. That guy says God gave him his dream job… God loves him more than me. God came down in a pillar of fire or something at that lady’s church… clearly God does not love me at all.
It doesn’t offend God that we feel that way, but it must be frustrating to love someone so much and have them say WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME because they don’t understand you. I’m glad God is a patient kind of guy.
A few days ago, I found myself in one of my toddler moments. I was getting ready for the day, doing my hair (for once), and just going to town with complaints. Here’s a little picture of what God had to listen to me whine about:
I just don’t understand why we are even doing this if it’s all for people we already know and if the only people who read my blog are my mom and her friends then what the heck is the point of this clearly we are doing something wrong because we don’t have the audience I thought we would have and we can’t grow our viewership and our videos are always late and my blogs are always boring and honestly I feel like this was probably a huge waste and we aren’t even doing anything important and we haven’t figured out how to bring in non camp people and we probably never will because nothing we do is good enough and NO ONE LIKES US ANYWAY
And then I just about dropped my curling iron because my brain immediately had the crystal clear thought, “It doesn’t matter if they like you. It matters if they like Me.”
There aren’t many people in my life who can leave me speechless, but it turns out Jesus is one of them. What was I supposed to say to that? I grumbled a little something like “well yeah obviously” and stomped off (you know, like an adult.)
As it turns out, Jesus wasn’t done with me yet.
That morning we got to sit in on staff chapel. Each week at Forest Home, one of the staff members leads a devotion message and time of prayer. This week’s message just happened to be about Job. He talked about all the crap that Job went through and how he remained “blameless and upright.” He talked about what I like to refer to as “the pity party of Job,” when he wept for the day he was born. He talked about Job’s friend Elihu and his wise counsel. And then he talked about what God had to say to Job.
This is one of those times in the Bible when you read what God said and can’t help but think “oh snap.” God LAYS IT OUT. He basically asks Job “who the heck do you think you are?” Properly, “who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) God makes it clear just how little Job really knows.
BUT JOB IS A GOOD GUY! He’s upright! He’s blameless! WHAT THE HECK?
Job could go on and on about how he had done nothing wrong and he loved/feared God and lived his life to honor God. Cool, Job. That’s nice. It would be great if more people did that. But Job didn’t trust God. He thought he knew exactly how things should be happening according to his own knowledge. He thought he knew God’s motives and why things happen the way they do. And even though he never cursed God, he cursed himself over and over again. As the one who loved Job so much and had faith in him to prove the enemy wrong… well, I’m sure God was a little disappointed.
I am Job.
I try my best to be a good person. I love God. I follow Him. I’m willing to give my life to serve Him. I’ll move into a camper and do a lot of things that make me anxious and uncomfortable and say out loud that I am doing exactly what God wants me to do. But I don’t trust His plan. I think I know how this is supposed to go and what it should look like. I know that if we are “failing,” it means God is angry with us and hates what we are doing. Silly Job.
I’m so grateful that we serve a God who “ever so gently” reminds us that we are not in control. I needed to be reminded that in everything I do, my purpose is to love Jesus, follow Him, and show others His love through my life. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how many subscribers we have or whether we radically change the world of camping ministry (not that we really plan to.) All that matters is that in all that we do, we live the way Jesus called us to and love the people we meet really well.
Because it doesn’t matter if they like me; it matters that He loves them.