How We Stay (Mostly) Sane Living in a Small Space

Apr 12, 2017

We currently split our time between living in our Winnebago Travato 59K camper van, a 1,000 square foot studio-style loft, and hotel rooms, especially while traveling internationally. One of the most common questions we’re asked is “Sooo…how is it, living in such a small space?”, which may just be a polite way of asking “Don’t you want to kill each other yet?” 😀

Our answer: “Actually, it’s been great, as long as we identify when we need a break from the small space or each other and take it!

On living with another human in a small space

Sometimes we get rather restless and grumpy when we can’t go outside much, like if it rains for an extended period, there are lots of insects of the biting or stinging variety, or if it’s too hot or cold. It’s also an issue when we’re camping in a public or very cramped area and can’t extend our living space outside, which is what we consider our true “living room”. We get the same feeling of cabin fever in those situations that we’ve experienced in a big house or our larger RVs – it just sets in a bit quicker!

These days sure can be a morale killer – especially several of them in a row.

To combat that problem, we have to communicate how we’re feeling all the time to one another, especially when we need a break, and then act on it. While RVing, sometimes we get a hotel room for a night or few, rent a place on Airbnb or VRBO, book a swanky RV park with lots of amenities to take advantage of, or take up a friend or family member on a generous offer of their driveway/guest bedroom. We usually make an extra effort when possible to seek out a hot tub to soak some of our stress away.

Neither of us wants to get anywhere close to the “Here’s Johnny!” scene from The Shining toward one another (plus we don’t have any wooden interior doors to chop through), so we have to speak up early on if we’re feeling too claustrophobic, need some time alone, or have other unmet emotional needs.

Sometimes just the constant presence of another person and our dogs so physically close necessitates some alone time. That’s healthy for anyone, regardless of the size of your home, how well you get along with your those you live with, and your level of intro- or extroversion.

Personal space – what’s that?!

The best option for us, so far, has been to find something we each love to do, especially if it’s something that our partner doesn’t enjoy as much or is ambivalent about, and embrace it fully as “me” time. That means our “me” time is spent doing something we love, and we don’t feel any guilt about subjecting our partner to things they may not enjoy as much! Win-win.

I like to take some time alone to chat with my friends and family, read, write, edit photos, or catch up on a show/movie I’d been wanting to see that doesn’t interest Jason. Meanwhile, he watches sports, plays video games, reads, calls his family, goes for a mind-clearing walk or hike with a dog(s), or talks with a friend.

We learned that it’s important not to let ourselves fall victim to the “We must do everything together!” mentality, just because we live in a small space, work at home together, and travel together. For us, this is essential to staying sane and happy in our relationship. Maintaining our own friendships is crucial as well. Even though they often overlap, it’s good to have our own one-on-one conversations with those friends, instead of doing everything as a couple.

On living with pets in a small space

“You have THREE dogs in there?” is something we hear often while traveling in our camper van, even from strangers (which is fair, since we do resemble a clown car when we all enter and exit).

clown-car-o

They’re getting older and lazier, but we also make it a point to exercise them (and us) often to keep us all happy, whether we’re in our van or our home-base. If it’s raining, we go to a pet store and walk them inside for a bit. If we can find a dog-friendly place to hang out, they come with us to patios to sit outside (or inside, if they allow that!). Even if it’s not much activity, the mental stimulation of a new situation typically exhausts them. They also stay extremely well-socialized and better behaved in public, and adapt well now to most any circumstance we throw at them.

Sometimes, we do want to get away for a bit on our own, and we try not to feel bad about needing that time alone. Just like a parent of human children needs adult time and date nights, so do we from our four-legged dependents. We try to tire them out earlier in the day the best we can, then leave them behind at home or (temperature permitting) in the van, to do our own thing for a few hours.

In our RV, they tend to spend quite a bit of time awake after we leave, watching for us to come back, and usually sitting in the driver and passenger seats, looking out the windows. This has led to us returning to the van to see random passersby laughing and taking pictures of them “driving”. I wonder how many pictures of them are floating around the internet that we don’t even know about? 😀

Taking turns at the wheel is important in avoiding road fatigue.

On living without much stuff in a small space

This part was, and sometimes still is, quite difficult. A purge of possessions perpetually happens as we find more useful or space-saving things, wear things out, or cease to need them anymore. Decluttering and downsizing is always a work in progress for small-space dwellers, and a one-in, one-out rule can be tough to live by, but necessary.

We now make do with very little, but we truly love most of the carefully-curated things we do own, and tend to use them often. We buy higher-quality items now that should stand the test of time, go out of our way to source products that are ethically produced and/or support the local economy, and find we don’t require as much to be happy, because our collections are more of the “experiences” variety these days.

Reading the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” greatly changed my emotional attachments to the things I own, even if it can be a little “out there” at times. The concept of wasting much our valuable energy to organize, reorganize, worry about, and maintain lots of possessions — ones that you may not even cherish or use — fits well into our minimalist lifestyle. I highly recommend her methods for systematically purging things from your home by the type of item, so as not to feel so overwhelmed in the process.

If you aren’t offended by a few f-bombs (okay, maybe a lot of them!) the book “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” is a funny “life decluttering” follow-up, and gave us a lot of pause about what really matters to us day-to-day in a world where everything seems to compete for your attention. Part of decluttering your life has to be about not giving too much of your time to things that don’t mean something to you. We learned how to better operate within our personal “give a f*ck” budgets daily, and eliminate activities that don’t bring us joy.

Now we’d love to hear from you, dear readers – have you downsized your living situation, and what effects has it had on your life? What struggles do you run into, and what tips do you have for others? 

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16 comments

  1. Comment by Jeanette Hobbs

    Jeanette Hobbs Reply Apr 12, 2017 at 8:56 am

    Love this! Eric doesn’t need much “personal space” as he’s fine with headphones & a movie or video game, but I need true alone time which is harder to carve out. It’s also harder for me to *ask* for – I feel so high maintenance compared to Eric. I’m better about it now though. Re:stuff, I find that the lack of stuff and the associated organizing, cleaning and, most importantly, obsessive need to get more of it, has allowed me to finally be fully present in my life. I know collect stunning vistas, stellar office views, hikes, & quality time with fur babies & friends (old & new). I have far fewer possessions but a much richer life.

  2. Comment by Debbie L

    Debbie L Reply Apr 12, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Great post! Been wondering how you all were doing! We can so identify! After we moved 10 times over nearly 30 years, the last (we thought) move made us declare, “We’re going to become minimalists!” Ha! Our next move proved we weren’t. So we tried it again…finally, our 13th move was into an extra light and small 5th wheel! Yay! We were inspired by you two, Gone With the Wynnes, and the Lowe’s! We’ve never looked back and we love our decluttered lifestyle. But we did upgrade to a 40′ motor home-but the 18 months in the extra light taught us well! We didn’t add anything!
    Getting along in 400 square feet 24/7….oh how many people tell us they could NEVER do that! I love your explanation: communication.

  3. Comment by Sonyo Estavillo

    Sonyo Estavillo Reply Apr 12, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    I adore your dogs and the images. Communication is key to avoiding potential altercations and misunderstandings. 🙂

  4. Comment by ir2cu

    ir2cu Reply Apr 12, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    Loved your blog. You write amazing will check you more often .
    wuf wuf wuf for your dogs !

  5. Comment by Samantha Johns

    Samantha Johns Reply Apr 13, 2017 at 2:21 am

    You are actually so blessed to be sharing such a small space with such beautiful animals! Awwwww

  6. Comment by ROY LOOMIS

    ROY LOOMIS Reply Apr 13, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    enjoyed reading – good info.. it’s nice to hear how others do it.. thanks for sharing

  7. Comment by ginnietom

    ginnietom Reply Apr 14, 2017 at 7:17 am

    great post! …peaceful easter 😉

  8. Comment by lulu

    lulu Reply Apr 14, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    My family, 6 of us, did a long RV trip and thought it was great fun. That being said I could not survive that many in a small space for very long. If it’s just the hubby and me, I would last a little longer but I’m not sure I want to put it to the test. Travel on!

  9. Comment by The Wanderer

    The Wanderer Reply Apr 14, 2017 at 8:49 pm

    Just joined wordpress, and your blog is the first I read. Love it. BTW, have you ever read Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon? It was my favorite book, about a road trip in America. Love your lifestyle!

  10. Comment by Wandering Beauty

    Wandering Beauty Reply Apr 14, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Love this post, such easy reading! 🙂

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Apr 16, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      Thank you for reading!

  11. Comment by kheprisilvanis

    kheprisilvanis Reply Apr 15, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    First of all, I love your big smooshy faced dog. Is he mastiffish or bull something?
    We travel with one dog but the question we get when we exit our clown insert-whatever-it is-at-the-moment, the question we get is, “You have three KIDS in there?” I just realized I’m nearly at 30 moves in 9 years. That sounds ridiculous… It was the 11th move where I really started to seek “the stuff purge.” I actually posted about it a while back.
    Recently we were living in a short bus but the engine blew up. During the summer in the bus I noticed how much shorter my neurotic cleaning process had become. We’re actually in a van right now as I write this with myself, my husband, our 3 kids, our dog and 2 friends, on a pilgrimage to the van that will stand in until the bus is repaired. Rainy days are certainly the pits, especially if the dog gets wet before we all pile into our dry space, but that’s what museums, libraries and naps are for, right? Patience and communication are definitely HUGE and we try to stay where it’s warm. I would rather do this any day than the activities required to spend roughly 5 hours a day with my family in a stationary living space of any size! The earth is my home and it’d be a shame to only use one room.

    • Comment by Kristin

      Kristin Reply Apr 16, 2017 at 7:53 pm

      The big dog is a half Shar-Pei, half mutt, as best we can tell. She’s a rescue, and we adopted her mom, who was a full-blooded Shar-Pei.

      What a fun adventure you’re on, too! “The earth is my home and it’d be a shame to only use one room.” – I couldn’t agree more! We have a part-time small home lately for a few reasons, but we consider ourselves at home anywhere we are in the world at the moment. There’s no one place that really feels completely like home to us. Happy travels! 🙂

  12. Comment by Naomi Madelin

    Naomi Madelin Reply Apr 17, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Ha ha – yes, the decluttering. And the cabin fever. I so hear you. But the world as your back garden ain’t so bad eh?!

  13. Comment by trashonthemonocacy

    trashonthemonocacy Reply Apr 17, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    How funny! My labrador used to hop in the front seat as well, and I also caught people taking photos! Sadly she’s much too arthritic to maneuver herself out of the back seat anymore.

    When my husband and I went on our honeymoon 17 years ago, we traveled Australia and New Zealand by tent. About 2 weeks in on this 7-week trek, I thought that I was going to go nuts. I turned to him and said, “I hate you”; he replied, “I hate you, too.” We laughed and then had a great time the rest of the trip. It just needed to be said.

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