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!
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.
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).
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? 😀
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?