“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.