The Attraction of Purging Your Stuff

Finding a simpler, kinder life on the road.

I spent three hours yesterday looking for the perfect orange tablecloth, the right fabric, the right size and within my budget. It became an obsession that distracted me all day.

We are staying at a friend’s apartment and I wanted the perfect gift to show our appreciation. It felt strangely awkward to spend so much time shopping after three years of swearing off new stuff.

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In March of 2015 my husband and I sold our 5,000-square-foot Greek Revival house in New York’s Hudson Valley and sold or gave away most of our stuff. We stashed some personal papers, artwork and a bit of furniture in storage, then hit the open road.

Since then, our new home is a 23-foot-long, tricked-out Sprinter van.

The clothes we carry with us are carefully chosen. So are the papers and books, editions we can’t find online. We have exactly the right number of plates and silverware, pots and pans and towels that we need. We don’t have room for new possessions so the old habit of picking up a little memento or new kitchen tool had to die.

We buy only food and gas and can stay remote for weeks at a time as long as we have a strong cell signal to connect us with the world.

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Inside our home we have a full bathroom and shower, and two burners on a propane stovetop. We even have a TV. More than once we squeezed six people around the table for dinner, shunting aside the computers and papers that we need for our work.

Best of all we have our freedom to wake up each day and decide if we want to move on. West to Yuma, Arizona, or east to the Chiricahua’s ancient towering hoodoos, the ones that look like giant turds? We go where we want, when we want to. There is no need to pack.

We don’t have a good answer when asked “where are you from?”

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We have taken our rig to Alaska two times, driving for days along the Alaska Highway through the Yukon to Anchorage where our relatives let us park in their driveway. At night we could hear moose and bear trip by in the yard. By day, we watched the eagles soar above the Pacific Ocean in search of prey.

The only rule we have for deciding where to travel is the weather. If the temperature drops below 50 degrees or there is a long stretch of rain in the forecast, we will drive until we reach a warmer climate.

We tried renting an apartment this past winter, living in a classic shotgun bungalow in New Orleans. After weeks boon-docking in remote deserts and mountains, we were ready for some urban fun. New Orleans met our requirement for warmer weather and the creative cultures that define the city kept us in their spell.

Living in a short-term rental apartment has an appeal but, after a while, I miss our small van.

A Kinder, Gentler Life

In our Sprinter, we have learned to give and take more easily, stepping aside for each other to move smoothly through the interior, never trying to race ahead or stepping accidentally on the other’s toe.

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It’s a small space but it has led us to treat one another more kindly, more softly, no longer shouting from upstairs to down as we did in the big house.

If I feel cramped and need time alone, one of us can work out of the car that we tow or in a large screen house with a 360-view.

We have discovered many rewards in our wandering: the chance to sit alone amid astoundingly beautiful expanses of nature or to roam the empty streets of small towns looking for signs of life.

But an unexpected thrill comes from the freedom we have found in the abandonment of unnecessary stuff.

Time is the Greatest Gift of All

I no longer waste time going into gift shops. With no wall space and no shelves to display new knickknacks, I avoid the temptation of handmade crafts or souvenir t-shirts. We have enough.

Saving hours that I once spent on the Internet searching for the perfect new thing, I am left with the coveted treasure of time. Time to read, time to hike, time to share adventures with my life partner and friends and family we meet along the road.

We may settle down some day and embrace the comfort of community but, when we do, the house will be tiny and our van will be parked right outside.

Written by

TV, print and online journalist. Mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, adventurer, history-lover. and

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