Note: This is a guest post by Bradley Williams of Dream Big, Travel Far.
For the last 2 years, my girlfriend and I have been living almost full time in our custom-built camper as we continue on our goal to drive around the world.
Prior to this we have spent much of the last 6 years backpacking, living out of little more than a shared 65 liter backpack- much of which is filled with laptops and cameras for work, or medical gear for my girlfriend’s type 1 diabetes.
So we were sort of forced down the route of minimalism!
Living in a van actually allows space for a few little extras in comparison to living out of a backpack, though it is still extremely limited.
But whereas most of our friends and family would be aghast at such an idea, we have come to love this much more reduced way of living. In fact, it makes you appreciate those added “luxuries” even more and shows you just how much stuff in a traditional home you really don’t need.
This article presented a chance for me to put pen to paper (at least digitally) and take stock of those top 10 things that I realize I no longer really need. They are …
1. A TV
There’s a scene from the show Friends, where Joey gets to the Bahamas and meets some paleontologists who say that they don’t own a TV, to which Joey responds “What does all your furniture point towards!?”
I think it’s both hilarious, and worryingly accurate, that this is how homes are laid out. Don’t get me wrong, we love watching movies and TV series. But our laptop does this just fine, especially as we benefit from modern streaming services like Netflix, Prime and Disney Plus.
We just download a few episodes every now and then when we get WiFi and then we know what we are watching. No ads. And no back and forth “so what should we watch tonight?” When you can’t flick through endless channels and are instead limited to what you have downloaded, it’s surprisingly liberating.
Or better yet, we just talk to each other as setting up the laptop requires more effort so the lack of convenience makes us less likely to stare at the screen.
2. Endless books
I love reading and I love books, but really they do build up! And, for me personally anyways, I don’t think many people really re-read the same book twice. At least not for many years.
I quite love finding second hand book shops or those little shelves in hotels and hostels which let you “take one and leave one”. You’re never short of a story to read, but in a practical sense, there simply isn’t room for dozens of physical books in a van, especially ones you have already read!
Even better, I can download modern books from the Kindle store on Amazon and have instant access to whatever it is I fancy reading next.
3. 14 pairs of shoes
We have this small box area where all of our shoes live, and I love it! It forces us (cough, my girlfriend, cough) to only have the one or two pairs of shoes that we wear 90% of the time.
For me, my day shoes double as my gym shoes, so other than that I only have a pair of hiking boots, and my Reef flip flops.
4. A floor-to-ceiling fridge
We have this compact 80 liter fridge which even has a small freezer containing space for a bag of frozen vegetables and fruit. And it does us absolutely fine!
With some added non-fridge space for canned goods and vegetables, we can easily store enough food for a week or more.
When I’m back at home, I have this habit of buying food, half eating it and then putting the container back in the fridge to forget about it. No room for that luxury here, and it means we waste far less food, which is nice.
5. That miscellaneous junk drawer
Everyone has that drawer (or drawers plural) in their home that contains reams of tangled cables, tools, batteries, toothpicks and God knows what else. We like to tell ourselves “oh this will come in really handy one day”.
But the problem is, because the drawer has SO MUCH junk in it, you don’t remember what you put in there and it just builds up. Now, we have a rule. Are we going to definitely use this in the next 3 months?
If the answer is no, then we pass it on or throw it away, or just simply don’t buy it in the first place! Otherwise we are paying good money on the fuel to cart drawers worth of useless junk around the world.
6. More than 4 plates
In our van, we have 4 plates, 2 bowls, 2 soup bowls (pretty frivolous, I know), 4 pairs of cutlery, 4 glasses (2 wine and 2 tumblers) and 2 mugs. That’s it and it’s all we need.
Even with guests we muddle through, as our soup bowls can double up and get us through. Any more would be unnecessary. I know for a fact my parents’ home has at least 3 dozen mugs in one cupboard. It’s rare that 2 or 3 would ever be in use at one time!
7. The latest … well … everything!
I’ve realized that, at least personally, the vast majority of my enjoyment from daily life comes from experiences and being in new places. I don’t need the latest phone, camera, clothes, shoes, backpack, or whatever else, in order to feel that way.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in what others around you have and wanting to get that fresh version of the latest thing to somehow get more pleasure out of something.
As long as our van is running and we have our laptops with us; then we can travel, run a business and love life. Sure, you have to renew tech at some point, but only to a certain extent. Needing wireless chargers, and the latest iPhone or weatherproof jacket just isn’t necessary.
8. Washing machine
Quite a simple one here, but doing laundry is actually surprisingly easy on the road. We just have one bag, and when it gets filled we head to a laundromat, it takes an hour of the day to wash, dry and get back on the road.
We have actually seen some van videos of those with larger van builds incorporating washing machines and dryers! I mean, that’s an interesting idea. But laundromats are everywhere and we have never struggled to have clean clothes.
Also, it’s super cheap and doesn’t require spending hundreds to own that equipment and then having to pay to get it fixed if something goes wrong.
These can be really handy, and growing up I would use this to prepare food at least once a day, probably much more during my time at university.
But since being in the van, I realize that you really don’t need one!
The only real time they would prove convenient is to quickly cook up a frozen meal from the supermarket. But these are always super unhealthy anyway, so it forces us not to rely on quick meals like that.
We actually have an in-built oven with two hobs on top, which by many vans standards, is luxury.
10. A make-up area
To finish up, here’s one from Cazzy. Back home she would have drawers filled with different makeup products, shades of eyeliner, lipstick and god knows what else.
In the van she has a small bag with what she uses and she puts this all on using the mirror on the sun visor of the passenger seat.
And it works just great! Again, it boils down to the 80:20 principle. She carries the 20% of gear that she wears 80% (or probably more like 98%) of the time.
No need for anything more.
What’s the bottom line here?
I’m not saying living in a house is bad, and that it’s not okay to have things you don’t use every single day.
But it definitely is a liberating feeling to know exactly what you do own and don’t own.
If I need a tool or part or piece of stationary to mend something, I know exactly whether I have it and where it is. There’s no hours spent rifling through drawers and asking everyone where it might have gotten lost.
It’s surprisingly freeing to have less and to realize you don’t need to have immediate access to everything.
I find this particularly liberating on the television front. By downloading one series at a time, that’s all we watch and it’s great. Back at home, It’s easy to get into this horrible habit of trying to work out what we are “in the mood” for that night.
But not being “in the mood” for something is driven simply by having too much choice.
Instead, whenever I am back at home, I can then really appreciate things like a long shower (or even a bath!) which are luxuries that I fully appreciate rather than take for granted. It really helps better put things in perspective.
Bradley Williams is one half of the blogging duo over at Dream Big, Travel Far. Here, he and his girlfriend Cazzy document their adventures traveling around the world. They are currently 2 years into a 3-4 year journey of driving their self-converted camper around the world. You can learn more in this blog post or on their YouTube channel.