Minimalism, vanlife, traveling, solo female traveler, sober travel, traveling in USA, downsizing.
While the idea of minimalism is something that’s fascinated me for years, I also find it terrifying.
First a little backstory. I have, in reality, started over with almost nothing three times in my life. When I moved from my parent’s house to a college dorm to an apartment but at that age I didn’t own much and was less “set in my ways.”
My biggest re-start was at age thirty-six. I was with my ex-husband for seventeen years and had amassed a one-bedroom apartment full of belongings. I also had most of the items I coveted from my parent’s home by that time. Old journals, photos, sentimental clothing that belonged to my mother when she was young, all my writing from elementary school through high school and college.
But I was in a severely abusive marriage, and leaving was difficult on many levels. My ex-husband was violent, an addict and volatile. When I told him I was leaving, he threatened to kill me. There’s a lot of drama and another story in all of this that I don’t need or want to unpack here, so the bottom line is that when I left, all I could take was a blow up mattress and a small suitcase. When I returned to the apartment, a couple of months later (supervised) he’d put a lock on the bedroom door, given most of my belongings to his mistress and thrown away everything else that was important to me. I “lost” almost everything that held sentimental value, including all my writing from childhood as well as photos and the clothes that had belonged to my mother. On top of that, he took my car (yes, I’d paid $10,000 for it), my pets and all the furniture… everything. But I was fine with it because I realized I’d escaped with my life, which is the one thing that was irreplaceable (other than my pets, which of course were the hardest to lose).
And so I began again. With virtually nothing. I didn’t have a bed, a dresser, pots or pans, dishes, TV, gaming systems (we had 5), etc. I did eventually get my computer back (an ancient desktop, this was a long time ago LOL) because he had his own, but he had still stuffed mine full of porn LMAO.
I moved in with a close friend and she had an apartment full of stuff. She had couches, a TV, kitchen items and basically all I “needed”. I had the blow up mattress, which I slept on for over a year, until I could afford a futon. I rode the bus 2 hours each way to work until I scraped up $250 to buy a very used car. I was thirty-six years old, and starting over at that age was not as easy as it had been at eighteen. But I managed. I learned a lot, and I was fine. At my core, I’m a survivor.
Unfortunately, I did not learn my lesson and picked another abuser. This one was even worse. He did attempt and almost killed me. It involved the police. It was an ugly mess of domestic violence with bruises and blood.
He “wouldn’t let me leave” so I had to plan in secret for months and eventually moved out while he was at work. I found a great, fully furnished, sublet and left everything except my cat. Eventually he calmed down enough for me to get a few more items than my ex-husband had allowed, but I still had little.
I had some clothes and a newer computer that I built myself. No furniture and no kitchen items. Those were all his. I was forty years old. That was when I made the firm decision to live alone. No more roommates who I’d be beholden to and no more live-in lovers.
A few months later, I moved again, from the sublet to my own one-bedroom apartment. I had nothing. No furniture, not even a single kitchen plate. I lived in that apartment for seven years and during that time I completely filled it. From a couch to a bed to kitchen items to a dresser and more…
When I moved to the apartment, I live in now; I had to hire movers and a truck. But I look around and everything I have here now is different. I ended up replacing every piece of furniture, including my couch. My last couch died a sad and scary death of horror. I changed my esthetics from dark wood to light wood. From heavy, black everything to bright, colorful and mostly blue. I bought used items on Craigslist. I painted things. I bought artwork and plants. I made a really beautiful and very comfortable home.
But about five years ago, I began obsessing on the idea of a tiny home. I knew then that I’d never be able to afford a house. Where I live in Northern California near San Francisco, the cost of living has increased exponentially and continues to do so. When I moved into my neighborhood ten years ago, two-bedroom houses were selling for $300,000. They now sell for over a million. Ten years ago, $300,000 was not in my budget. My last apartment was amazing (rats in the walls and black mold notwithstanding) but when my landlord died, they gave me sixty days to vacate. There is no rent control in my county and prices just keep going up.
At the time of this blog post, a one bedroom in my town rents for $3,200 a month. When I moved here, a one bedroom rented for $1,200 a month, which is currently less than the price of renting a single bedroom in a shared rental. Those go for $1500 and up per month.
In another 10 years, with the rate of inflation here, a one bedroom will probably rent for over $6,000 a month and a share will be $3,000 for a single bedroom. Not only is that absolutely ridiculous, it’s unsustainable. Especially since income has not increased to match the rate of inflation. In a decade this will be the land for the rich only. :(
I’ve talked previously about my options and how I decided on tiny living in a van. What I haven’t touched on in depth is the fear that goes with giving up all my “stuff” again. I know I can do it. I want to do it. But society tells me that unless I have a four-bedroom house and a Mercedes, Tesla or BMW, and designer clothes, I’m a nobody. If I don’t have a husband and 2.5 children, I’m a nobody. I’m less than worthless. It’s a weird societal norm, and it’s an ugly and untrue bias.
When you’re twenty something, you’re allowed to explore and try new things. Your family and friends can label you as “experimenting” and say “they’ll grow out of it”. You can be a nomad or a minimalist, it’s more acceptable. But when you get older, it’s much less so.
I’ve always been one to buck the system, always. I went my own way and forged my path. I constantly and supremely disappointed my father to the point of being “disowned”. People in my life may look at me and think that it was easy, it’s who I am, to go against the grain. But when they don’t know is that I tried to go with it for most of my life, in my own way. I tried to fit in. I tried to do what they expected of me. I tried to be happy with other people’s constraints or the ideals they placed on me. But when I did that, I was miserable, and I didn’t like who I was. When I kept my mouth shut at restaurants as my father abused the waitstaff, I hated myself. When I strived to earn more money than I needed to survive, to the point of working seven days a week and not taking any time for myself, I was miserable. When I bent over backwards to please him and failed repeatedly, I had to give up.
So, does moving into a van scare the shit out of me? YES, it does! Am I doing it anyway? YES, I am. Does it also excite me? HELL YES! I don’t know what the future holds, none of us do. But I can try this. If I hate it, I can start over yet again. I’m resilient. I’m adaptable. And I’m willing to take risks.
I’d like to take you along on my process because when I watch YouTube videos about minimalists and vanlifers or read books written by them—they’re already there, doing it. And that’s amazing and inspirational, but I didn’t get to see the struggle. And we all know the struggle is real! I want to document that. The REAL struggle. In its ugliness, vulnerability and bravery. I hope you’ll join me in that, and I hope you’ll reach out and tell me your stories and share your own struggles.
Hi, I'm Kimberly Anne! (aka K.A.)
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