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New Year question: Am I a minimalist?

First of all, hello from Panama where we've been for almost a month. it has been a long time since I posted a story, so sorry. It's been easier to frequently post pics and video content on Instagram at Bergproject55 while we've been on the road since July than to write every week. Please join us on Instagram if you can. I'll continue to write, more, I promise.

When I told my family about our current trip: 18 months around North America in a Toyota Tundra with a rooftop tent (with a few international trips tossed in there - maybe Greece, Panama, Vietnam), one sister called me a “micro-minimalist". Having experienced the passing of two family members in 2022, and being involved in sorting their possessions led me to research the term minimalist and see if it fits me.

1. A minimalist by definition is a person who strives to use only things that serve a purpose in daily life; a person who has a simple and uncluttered lifestyle. Minimalists are often very organized and efficient and find satisfaction in pursuing meaningful relationships and activities.

I’ve been called organized and efficient by a few people in my life!!! Yet there is such a concept as overly organized. It happens when I move things around every time I think I have found a better storage space for them, only to ask myself the next week, “Where did I put…?” In our truck that happened often at the beginning of our current trip, but I'm getting better as the months go along. For sure, everything has to have a purpose if it enters our truck! More of my problem stems from hitting my head on various parts of the truck as I'm searching for that thing. Oh, my poor cabesa!

2. Minimalists want “white space” or empty space across all areas of life, not just physical space, but in their calendars too. They seek to rid themselves of constraints and complexity.

I bought a color-coded 18-month planner when we left Colorado to keep track of where we stayed and our budget; my teacher friends would be proud of me. At first, I wrote in it daily, then as time passed that faded. I found myself wanting to just be in the moment constantly, not only putting away my journal, but also my phone and camera. I’ve always believed that technology is a double-edged sword and it can envelop our attention - distracting us from our immediate environment, the very thing we’re trying to “capture”. Hence, my difficulty is writing on this blog more often, but I keep trying. Thanks for reading it!

A young couple in our family just purchased their first house and my advice would be to hang on to your “white space”. Allow it to be a space of creativity and simplicity, you don’t need to fill it right away. Don’t get sucked into our overconsumption culture. Think about how often you will use an item and when finished with it, how will you pass it along or recycle it. How much joy does the purchase repeatedly give you? I hope when we buy a place again I can follow this mantra. This year we’ve taken over 20 truckloads of ‘stuff’ to donation centers, landfills, scrap yards, and chemical recycling centers, as well as put furniture, electronics, and nicknacks on the lawn for county dump trucks to pick up. This has consumed my time, energy, physical strength, and tears. It has reinforced my desire to not accumulate lots of belongings because when I'm gone, the truth is, most of it won't matter to anyone else. The exception to this will be my Moroccan hanging lamp that 3 girlfriends might fight over because of how much I paid for it and love it. In fact, we have donated from our truck an entire suitcase of clothes since July. This year has helped me focus on the value of people, nature, and the joy of the present moment. So yes, I guess I’m a minimalist in this sense.

3. Maximizing function and decluttering are also traits of a minimalist.

Well let’s see…our old cooler is now our dry box. Our hiking poles double as exercise stretching devices. I’ve always traveled with duct tape, but now zip ties will always be in my bag as well. We’re working our way through our book bag as we read, donate, and opt for all digital in the future. Yet, my trip to Bath and Bodyworks last month proves that I still have some luxury vices as I just can’t accept the idea that one body lotion for all parts of my body is fine; I have day face lotion, night face lotion, body lotion, lip lube, foot cream, hand cream, arthritis cream, Tiger Balm, and a few others. Obviously, I don’t excel at maximizing lotion function!

4. Often described as people who are always working on projects or hobbies, minimalists apparently don’t like to waste time, but I struggle with what this means.

I’m not a minimalist when it comes to time since I can hang out watching movies for long periods of time rather than being productive or creative. Since being “retired” from education I’ve been struggling to create my own definition of being “productive” in various aspects of life. Productivity now revolves around our daily activities. Setting up camp and breaking it down takes energy, grocery shopping knowing we’re not working with a full indoor kitchen takes mental energy, getting our bikes or boats out and prepped for activity takes energy, as does responding to the elements of weather and researching our next lodging location. So being productive now just means daily living for us.

5. Minimalists concentrate on fewer things/people more deeply than casting a wide net of acquaintances or hobbies. “Addition by subtraction”, “quality over quantity”.

Being a nomad is a challenge when it comes to friendships. Old friendships are long-distance now and new ones are temporary when I meet someone at a campground or beach. Thank goodness for Whatapps for phone calls, but chatting on the phone isn’t the same as being on the river, skiing, or having a drink in person with my girlfriends. I miss seeing their faces when they laugh; I miss their hugs. When I was a teacher I interacted daily with hundreds of people, so I had to choose carefully which ones I turned into good friends, less I became an alcoholic drinking every night with another friend! Now I interact with ONE person on a daily basis and try really hard to keep in touch with a handful of my besties.

6. Minimalists are wary of the stress that can be caused by fitting into societal norms of wealth, material accumulation, social media, and traditions. They strive to live a soulful existence away from those stresses. They strive to be content with basic necessities and a few luxuries. They enjoy experiences more than possessions.

As a nomad living out of a truck, I can't help but enjoy experiences more than possessions, right?! Such a joy it is now to leave a campground, hotel, or Airbnb and not have to clean the bathroom or worry about utility bills! I pay my visa bill, POD bill, and insurance premium each month and that’s about it. Love the simplicity of life now, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t stresses to this lifestyle around daily existence. For example, one time when Brian was gone and I had the truck for a solo week I couldn't get the tailgate open and proceeded to hit my head on our water tube and gouged the bridge of my nose. Yes, there was blood! On a philosophical level, I think stress can be good because while stress can be painful in the moment, it is a reaction to a change in the expectation of the day - of the “normal”. Without it, we can’t move in new directions. The challenge for me is to not let it control my mood for too long before making a decision, but it is insidious, especially for us type “A” people who tend to overanalyze every decision. As the saying goes “Life begins one step outside your comfort zone.” For me to feel joyful and mentally healthy I can’t stay in my comfort for long, it gets boring. Guess at heart I’m a gypsy.

7. Lastly, minimalists are slow, deliberate shoppers and can say no to society’s materialistic expectations or over-scheduling themselves socially.

Well, I am definitely a slow shopper because my momma instilled in me the “value of a deal”, but now also because there isn’t a spare room in our rig. If something can’t be used in a thousand ways or a thousand times it doesn’t warrant consideration. When I think about what belongings I miss it’s more the comforts of home like always sleeping in a king bed, a big comfy couch, a full kitchen with all the gadgets, or a fireplace. Guess that means when I get my next “small” place it needs to have room for these things. I hope though I can preserve that “white space” for contemplation.

Overscheduling myself? Well, I’m currently in Panama and in 2023 plan to be in Greece, India, Canada, and Alaska. Should be quite the ride, oh, and along the way, hope to find a cool place for a wedding (mine), and maybe a long-term property!


P.S. Yes, I think I’m a minimalist!

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Michelle Collins
Michelle Collins
Jan 06, 2023

Love you, too! And I currently have the lamp...

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