Minimalism: after living in my van for seven months, these are my thoughts about what we think we need…
The newest iPhone, new clothes, shoes, hot showers and big houses. Especially in the west, we are absolutely convinced we need this. This is what makes us happy, right? After six months of living in a van, experiencing a minimalistic lifestyle, my view about what we think we need has changed. What did I think I needed, before living the vanlife in New Zealand? What did I think that made me happy?
September 2016: my journey began, I went to New Zealand with my backpack
In september 2016 I went to the airport with my backpack. Some clothes, a laptop, phone, powerbank, toothbrush, e-reader, sleeping bag, some money and my paspoort. That was about it. Two months later, I bought a van which I converted into a self contained home. I fabricated a bed, curtains, shelves, a ‘kitchen’ with sink and gas cookers and I bought a toilet (which I haven’t used yet). This is pretty much all I own at the moment.
What we think we need… Do we make a mistake?
The delusion behind what we think we need is, ‘I want to be comfortable. Comfort makes me happy.’. We also think ‘I need new clothes because it makes me feel better about myself, people will like me more when I look like those women in the magazines. I need a good kitchen and a good bed because then I can cook and sleep better’.
My conclusion after seven months: this is bullshit. Comfort makes us numb.. sleepy.. We get bored, and we don’t even realise it. What about stuff? Your self confidence, feeling good about yourself, doesn’t depend on the beautiful clothes you wear.
So here’s my list of 7 things I thought I needed…
- A hot shower, twice a day
Let’s start with the obvious. I’m a little ashamed to tell you this now, but I used to belong to the top 5% shower addicts in the world. Back at home, I showered at least twice a day. Ask my mom. Even as a child I showered at least 20 minutes a day, it made my mom almost cry, and the number only increased when I went living on my own. When I did my workout around noon, I sometimes showered three times a day. I loved, and still love hot showers. In the morning, I thought I needed it to wake up. In the evening, I thought I needed it to ‘wash off the day’ or in other words, to relax. Like everyone with ADD, I’ve been a troubled sleeper my whole life, and a hot shower helped me fall asleep, so I thought.
I don’t have a shower in my van (except for a portable shower) and after six months I’m convinced that we don’t need so many showers. I do still care about hygiene, and luckily I have a sink and water supply. When you travel around, there are a lot of other ways to refresh yourself. You can jump in lakes, the ocean, use public (cold) showers or go to the local swimming pool. Lately, I’ve been a huge fan of the public cold showers. I guess it’s pretty healthy, boosts the immune system. It’s the best way to wake up in the morning and I’ve been sleeping like a baby lately.
That shower doesn’t make you happy. It’s just comfort. So come on guys, save the planet, have at least one shower less a day. 🙂 (To be honest… I’m really curious how often I will shower when I’m back home)
- Wifi, all day, every day
I must admit that I have been a little frustrated about this one, here in New Zealand. The Wifi access is pretty shitty here. When you are alone in your van at night, and the sun goes down, besides reading, it can be nice to watch a movie or to listen to an audiobook. Besides that, I’ve set my mind on creating a successful blog. ‘Come on, I need wifi’, I thought…
After six months, I’m finally getting used to the fact that wifi is not so evident in New Zealand. And although I already knew it rationally, I’m only since recently experiencing the benefits of not being online all the time. I don’t need to be able to watch what’s happening online all day, every day. I don’t need to know how many people have read my blog or liked my posts all day every day. And when I want to work, I can just go to a library or Mac Donalds. Being able to be online all the time gives me more stress than pleasure. But it’s an addiction, and so we think it makes us happy. We think we need it 24/7. We don’t.
Have you ever felt completely happy while looking at your phone? If yes, how often?
- Central heating, heating every room of our big house
Damn I’ve been cold here in New Zealand. In New Zealand, most homes are made out of wood and Kiwi’s heat their homes the old fashioned way. I haven’t seen much central heating here.
It’s autumn now, and it can be soooo so cold. Freezing. Sometimes, I really wish to be in my home in The Hague, with my central heating on.
Do we need to heat every room in our house all the time?
Nope, there are other solutions to the cold. One of them is getting used to it. Or take other measures. I insulated my van with bubblewrap, for example. My New Zealand mom (where I worked for and stayed with at Christchurch Lavender Gardens) gave me a woollen duvet. I wear a lot of thermal underwear. But besides that, my body is getting used to the colder temperatures. Maybe you should ask me about this in two months, when it’s winter, but for now: We don’t need to put our central heating on 20 degrees and let it run in every room of our big houses. We can put on a sweater, use a blanket and let our bodies get used to the cold.
Central heating doesn’t make us happy. It’s just comfort. Comfort makes us numb. When I feel extremely cold, while cooking next to my van in the woods, at least I feel alive.
Oh crap. I really feel like that annoying climate activist now, but so be it. We’re killing the planet, and for what? Comfort?
- A nice kitchen, a big fridge, good knives, a blender, an oven, a juicer… etc…
Though all these things are pretty nice to have, it’s easy to survive without. One of my favourite backpacker meals is pastry with spinach and fetacheese. You just fill the pastry with the spinach and cheese, fold it and fry it in a frying pan. Who needs an oven? You can cook heaps of delicious meals with two gas cookers (or even one), a pot and a frying pan. Or have some raw food. Have you ever tried rice with avocado and raw garlic? It’s the best! Eat it with tomatoes, raw carrots, poached eggs and tadaaa, you’ve got some foodporn.
Yes, having a good kitchen is absolutely great. But at the moment, I have the best dining room ever. I’m having breakfast, lunch and dinner next to my van, while I look at the ocean, the forest or a lake. I’ve never been happier.
- A big comfy expensive box spring bed
We need good mattresses with the newest technology, to support our backs right? Let me tell you a secret. I’ve had back problems for a long time, from since I remember up until a couple of years ago. I didn’t have back problems because of my mattress, I had back problems because I didn’t do the right physical exercise. Probably, some psychological issues, the fact that I wasn’t completely happy, even had something to do with my back problems.
I’ve been sleeping on a very thin something for months now. I can’t even call it a mattress. I do yoga, I workout, I make sure my back and my core have some strength. Tadaaa, no back problems. I feel better than ever. (When your mattress is really old, you should probably buy a new one, but I hope you get my point).
Wake up guys. Whether it is technology in phones, shoes or mattresses. It’s all marketing. Commercial guys in suits, tricking you into buying stuff. Think twice about where to spend your money and about how much you spend. (you can still buy a nice mattress of course, but it doesn’t have to be a big brand and cost you thousands of dollars).
- That big house
We need at least a room for sleeping, a room for eating, a room for working and a room for cooking right? While I’m convinced that our living space is very important, I know now that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a big house. At the moment, I’m happier than ever living in my 2-3m van.
It’s a matter of choice. When you wish to own a big house, in general, you have to work more hours or harder or have a job where you have more responsibility. If you don’t mind doing that, than yes, enjoy that big house (but please don’t heat it all the time ;-)).
- A toilet bag with how many products for skincare, haircare, foot care, hand care and whatever I don’t care
We think we need 15 beauty products a day. Day cream, night cream, not getting old cream, deodorant, toothpaste, scrub, shower gel, shampoo, shaving stuff, mascara, eyeliner, foundation, lipgloss, soap to clean your ‘you know’, shower gel in 20 different smells.
I found out that I like to live simple when it comes to beauty products. Use as few items as possible. It saves me so much money, and 90% of the products aren’t even healthy to use. We don’t need it, but we get addicted to it. Our lips need balm because they are dry, oh no wait, it’s because they are used to the balm. Same with our skin, hair, etc.
What have I been using for the last couple of months?
Daily: sunscreen, baking soda (as a deodorant), toothpaste
Occasionally: shampoo, day cream, shea butter, lavender oil, avocado oil, coconut oil
(No, I don’t smell or look like a swagger. You might think I’m not at my most pretty self without make up. Well, that might be true, but hey, I’m living the backpacker lifestyle so I’m allowed to be unpretty ;-))
Is my list of what we think we need complete?
Absolutely not. It is incomplete, messy and a bit chaotic, like me. I could make this list longer. We think we need new clothes all the time, that new pair of shoes, that new watch, the newest phone. But I hope you get my point. We don’t need what we think we need. We can be happy with less stuff and less comfort.
So minimalism is the key to happiness. Can’t you enjoy your big house?
Of course you can! I’m not trying to talk you into feeling guilty, quitting your job and sell your house. You can still live in a nice house, with a good kitchen, the most comfortable bed ever and buy new clothes. When I go back home, I will have showers again and I will use my blender and oven. I’m also dreaming of having a property. Not necessarily a big house, but I would love to have a garden, maybe live with likeminded people in a community or own a peace of land and build huts. Or I will buy a tiny house, or a caravan and keep traveling. I don’t know, but what I do know is that living space is important. It just doesn’t need to be big, expensive and luxury.
Then why did I want to tell this story about minimalism?
When you realise you don’t need all that stuff, that it’s just luxury and that it’s not what makes you happy, you can start focusing on things that do make you happy. You won’t feel upset when something breaks down, or when you don’t have the money to buy that big house.
It’s nice, it’s comfort, but it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself. It doesn’t make you happy.
I have close to nothing (in Western terms) and I am happy.
What you need to feel alive and happy every day, has nothing to do with stuff, with comfort.
I already knew it, now I’ve experienced it.
Minimalism and ADH/ADD
One last thing I would like to add to this story, is the brilliant combination between having less when you have ADD or ADHD. The fewer things you have, the fewer things you can loose or destroy while being clumsy. It’s as simple as that. 🙂
If you want to read more about needing less, read my article about Buddhism, where I explain why owning more causes stress.