The Arizona Project

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I wrote a post to summarize this renovation on the night before we finished it, but quite honestly, needed some space and time away from the project, from the unrelenting heat, from the 100-hour work weeks we were (each) putting in before I wrote anything about it. And, quite honestly, I wanted a chance to talk to my wife about it. We hadn’t spoken outside of measurement and lengthy, seemingly impossible to-do lists for weeks. I needed to hear her heart speak.

In the past month, after wrapping this job, we’ve seen some of our family and friends, driven 5,000 miles to head to our annual vacation spot and back west, and have started the next job. We spent two weeks at a four-generation lake cottage in Ontario, Canada, that Ellen’s grandparents bought in 1948. For Ellen, who has spent every summer of her life at the cottage, the cottage is the place that feels most like home to her. After becoming nomads several years ago, it is now the place that I call home too. While yes, it’s beautiful, it goes deeper than that. In our years of traveling full time, we have seen the light and dark in places, and the good and the bad, and this place is light and good and then something else, too. 

It is the place that we come to heal.

Yet as we’ve come off the last eleven months - where we renovated three Airstreams (one for ourselves while living in it and moving 1200 miles mid-build), and two for clients - while homeschooling, running the business, and taking care of our daughter, two dogs, and cat, we’ve realized that the two weeks we spend at the cottage each summer aren’t quite enough to heal if we are, on a daily basis, not taking care of ourselves. 

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For the last two weeks, Ellen and I have found ourselves on the dock while our daughter and pups play in the shallows, deep in conversation. We’ve spent time alone as well, and have each taken walks or swims or paddles to think. To try to heal. Upon arrival, our bodies ached and our injuries kept us from doing some of the things we normally would right away - my broken finger, her deeply bruised and gashed shin. Yet more than the physical injury and exhaustion, our minds were drained completely. Normally, when we are here, we kayak daily, take hikes, go skiing, swim constantly, see our friends as much as possible. Yet this year, we were slow to start. We didn’t rush anything and allowed ourselves time to heal from the physical, mental, and emotional toll it took to go from laying a floor in this project…to finishing the entire build, including lighting, electrical panels, outlets, plumbing, custom countertops, and the rest of the custom build…in three weeks and three days…(after spending the previous four and a half months doing the intensive and necessary work of getting it safe, watertight, and road-ready, for it was in absolutely wrecked condition - most people wouldn’t have even touched this Airstream).

While raising a child, with no outside support nearby.

Working outside in temperatures that ranged from 110-120 daily.

While living in an Airstream ourselves that didn’t give us a break from the heat.

And while yes, it’s beautiful…we spent maybe twenty minutes with it complete and finished, taking in all we’d accomplished, before we packed our tools, hitched up our own (unfinished) Airstream, and began the 2500-mile journey to our cottage, stopping to see our parents along the way. We hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving, where we spent a day with each set. It was all we could afford to take off from work. 

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There have been many lessons we have learned over the last year and a half of being in business together, but none more than the (really difficult) lessons we learned on this build and during our time in Arizona. Together, we decided we would be remiss if in this post I only noted the aesthetics and amenities of this space. Those can be seen in the photographs and can be read more about here. What always, always lies beneath the spaces Ellen and I create is the labor of our hands and minds, lessons learned, stories woven. This is what makes us…us. This is what makes The Modern Caravan exist in the way that it does. 

This work, we now know, is not a sprint. 

It’s a marathon. 

Scratch that - it’s a thru-hike. 

If you tried to sprint on a months-long thru-hike, without stopping for rest, water, sustenance, food, or human contact, you’d get disoriented and maybe lost. You’d get sick. You might even die. 

Our work cannot be a sprint anymore. This work, while we are able to do it in what seems, from the complete outside, like a quick minute - can only be done in that timeline if we shirk all other responsibilities in our lives. We don’t eat well, or sleep well, or give our child or pets the attention they need or deserve. We are always choosing work over family, work over time with friends, work over exercise or heathy eating habits, work over our marriage, work over ourselves. This is our fault, and we know this.

We are doing - and being - too much, all the time. 

When the job ends, our clients and followers say: that went so quickly - I can’t believe it’s over! 

For the client or the online follower, this can be a sprint (and has been). The client or the online follower  is passively observing.

For the renovator, this cannot be a sprint, because when this job is done and beautiful and complete, and it’s passed back to the client, we begin another sprint for another client. We have been sprinting on the trail for the last 19 months. For this job to be sustainable, for us to be able to go on and keep renovating for others, we must slow down. We have been learning these lessons, but never more so than now, after all that we’ve allowed of ourselves to do and be. We were afraid to stop, afraid to slow down. After all, we’re women in construction. Women in business. Women with a child to provide for. Women with all their eggs in one basket. We’ve gone hard and fast to prove we can and uphold our promises, while slowly stripping away who we are as human beings. We didn’t realize this lesson in its entirety until arriving at the cottage, anticipating healing, and finding that the two weeks we’ve taken yearly to rest and be still is no longer enough. It cannot be when we’re not taking care of ourselves at all during the fifty weeks that precede them. It was once a simple healing, a reset for the coming year, and now we are attempting to squeeze in a whole marriage, a personal reckoning, and true-family time in the all-too-short days. They’re all the days we’ve got.

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In speaking our truth, we are indeed artists and craftswomen doing specialized, highly varying types of work on 40-60+ year old vintage trailers that need to be done with proper care, and to that end, we are strong, capable, and intelligent women who are creating beautiful and functional and highly desired spaces. It’s time to stop being afraid of what might happen if we slow down and treat ourselves with the respect we deserve. What kind of work might we do if we were able to take our time? If we could work from a place of rested, strong physical health and emotional well-being? If we can produce this caliber of work while broken, what might we be able to create from a place of wholeness? What could we do for others, for all of you, if we had the time and energy? I can’t even imagine it. I, for one, am excited for change. 

It is now time to hike with care and intention, not sprint without stop, with fuzzy brains and weary limbs and emptied packs of sustenance, dromedary bags without water. We are going to take our time, and put in the hard work, just as we always have, but we will be slower in it. We will remember that we are not just artists and craftswomen, and we will instead prioritize being mothers, wives, and human beings. We will remember it is okay to exist outside of work, and that those who respect us will respect and acknowledge that we aren’t just laborers. That this work must be done with care and intention. We can only continue doing the work at our personal standard of high quality for years to come if we step back and change things for the better. This must come in the form of slowing down and taking care of ourselves and our bodies and minds and family along the way. Only if we do this can we continue on in this work that we’re so passionate about, because passion can only take you so far. Burnout is real, and we’re seeing it up close. 

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If you are wondering why we’re sharing this in lieu of a traditional “reveal” post, please know: we started this business from a very real love of creating together. The Modern Caravan wouldn’t exist without us, without our story. Without our marriage and romantic relationship, there is no business, no pretty Airstream, no photos of which to re-post or pin or be inspired by. Without our romantic relationship, we never would have decided to sell everything we owned and travel. We never would have bought an Airstream to renovate all those years ago, or realized how the art we were both longing to create was not a separate entity from each other, but that our talents and shortcomings both worked synergistically when we created that first-and-then-the-second Airstream. There is story and love and life wrapped up in all that this business and these projects, these art pieces, are. We don’t want it any other way, and to do this business from a place of disengagement doesn’t sit well with us. We tried that, and the story began to slip away. We don’t want to lose the wonder of the work we love. The story, our love, the creating of art as a couple - this is what makes The Modern Caravan special. This is what makes it worth anything at all. 

We are so often told that we’re living the dream, and we’re always quick to rebuke the myth. No matter how passionate one is about the art form they’ve chosen to create, or how much they may love their work or their lifestyle, to do what we’ve done in the last four and a half years has taken continual sacrifice and continual hard work. No dream worth having is without these things, and no one arrives at a dream, and to live within one, one MUST continue to sacrifice and work insanely hard to keep their ever-evolving and ever-shifting dream ALIVE and THRIVING.

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We share these truths because they are important, especially in our culture of immediate-gratification, and ever more so in the growing trend of the very Airstream-life we live and breathe. Hitting the road doesn’t erase your problems, no matter how many songs or pieces of fiction or Instagram accounts may lead you to believe, and renovating an Airstream and making it shiny and picture-perfect is not the arrival point. (Quite honestly, if you think it is, and you think that a follower count or throw pillows define you or your journey in some way, we’d advise you step away from the social media beast for awhile and thoughtfully reconsider.)

We share these truths because we have not arrived, and we are still in the throes. We will always be in the throes, but we now know it doesn’t have to be quite as hard as we’ve allowed it to be. 

The build itself, the work, the sacrifice, and then all that comes after - the lessons the road and life will teach you, when you are open to receiving them, are to grow you - to deepen your understanding of life and love and the world around you. These are the things you should be looking for. These are the lessons we look for. These are the reasons to do anything at all, and underneath every beautiful photo you see of our work is the culmination of years of that very sacrifice, the kind of work that makes you feel you cannot breathe or go on another day but then you do, story, the desire to create, and the love of two people who found a way to create together. It is more than an arrival. It is more than aesthetics. It is not a finish line. This is why this post is important - one can love the beauty of the spatial art we create, but what lies underneath the finished product? What is the truth and the story of the space? We lose this in the photographs, the likes, the comments, the oohs-and-ahhs, the follower count, and the finished product - unless it is called to light. 

What about the hands and bodies and minds and hearts of the people who created it? 

Things We've Learned | Part I

 Alaska, August 2015. THE road to hope.

Alaska, August 2015. THE road to hope.

If you've only been following along with our story for a little while, you may not know that we're not new to the traveling/Airstream renovation scene, though we only started The Modern Caravan last year. Airstream renovation and full-time travel isn't a new thing for us. This post is about what we've learned after doing six Airstream renovations over the course of four years, and though that's not say, the number that bigger companies with big teams do, it's a hell of a lot for two people. We've learned so much because we don't have a team. We are both 100% involved in every single renovation we do. Everything you see (with the exception of some cushions and one countertop) is built and crafted by our two sets of hands. We know the ins and outs of this work, and continue to put ourselves in the way of learning. We don't claim the term 'expert', we claim 'continually learning', with 12,000+ hours of physical renovation labor under our belts alone. That doesn't include the hours upon hours of research we do, or the work of starting the business, or the full-time travel, or any of the other associated learning that comes with living on the road, running a business from the road, etc. 

So let's get to it - here are a few of the many things we've learned over the past several years regarding Airstream renovation. This is largely geared toward those of you who are planning to get on the road, but there's advice in here for any Airstream renovator. 

1. Airstream renovation is a massive undertaking.

It will consume your life. You won't just be putting in the labor hours, you'll be researching and trying to figure out how to do tasks you've never done before. Yes, you might've been a contractor or home builder, but Airstream renovation presents a unique set of challenges. Both of our dads built houses in their early twenties, and when they came to help with our aluminum dwellings, we were teaching them, not the other way around. If you're wanting to get on the road quickly, renovation is not the answer. 

We have folks reach out to us for consultations who are certain they'll have their gut renovation done in three months because they have friends who are carpenters, or they have a strong work ethic, and they can spend every weekend and evening after work doing the renovation...or insert any other reason here for why they will bust out their reno faster than even we can bust one out, and we're doing this full time, not part time, and have actual Airstream renovation experience! Time and again, we've watched those renovations stretch out to eight months...to a year...to two years...there are too many unforeseen circumstances and too many things you don't know how to do that you'll spend more time researching and brainstorming than actually doing. That doesn't even begin to touch on timing, which I'll go into detail on below. 

2. Don't Take the Shortcut

After six Airstream renovations, including a not-so-vintage Airstream from 1994, trust us when we say the shortcuts are never, ever worth it. Anxious to get on the road? We get that. Trust us. We've been there. In many ways, we're still there. Yet you never know what's behind the skins or under your subfloor unless you do the work of looking. We see so many people - who didn't remove their interior skins - complain about leaks and are constantly up on their roof with a caulk gun, but this problem could be solved by being thorough from the beginning. Yes, it's tedious. Yes, it's time-consuming (to check every rivet). Yes, it's scary to drill out rivets and pull down your interior skins. 

Not that long ago, we were in your position, standing right where you are now, afraid to take out the original interior though it was rotted and moldy, afraid to drill out a rivet, afraid we'd ruin something. Scared or not, it's worth it to be thorough. It's worth it to know your chassis isn't rusted and you won't lose the back half of your trailer going down the road. It's worth it to not spend thousands of dollars and many hours of your life building on top of an unsafe, leaky trailer. Please bear in mind we are not saying this to make anyone feel bad, but having seen multiple trailers from various years (including our own, newer '94) in poor condition, we feel it's necessary to say. 

3. Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You'll Need

I'm circling back around to #1 a little bit here, but this is one that even I still struggle with. The issues we see the majority of people struggling with when planning their renovation timeline are as follows: 

  • Too much excitement and starry-eyed dreaming. Believe me, I get this struggle. Ellen still has to remind me to be more realistic. I get overly excited and make giant, hopeful lists to accomplish by day's end, and I'm inevitably disappointed when night comes and we've barely accomplished the thing we started doing that morning. There's always something that halts progress, and more often than not, the really good, crazy productive days don't generally come back-to-back. You might have a couple, but you're gonna have setbacks. You can't avoid them with this work. 
  • Assumption that building in an Airstream is like building in a house. It's just NOT. I'm not even talking about scribing curves (though that's frustrating, it's not tough if you have the right methods and tools). I'm talking about how nothing is square. Traditional measurement doesn't always work. You've gotta learn how to adapt, and then do it a million times over throughout your build. There are also many necessary steps that have to happen before your build even begins that require a vast knowledge base, much of which most DIY-renovators learn while they go. Learning new skills takes time. 
  • Airstream renovation is not for the faint of heart. I read recently that these old trailers have a way of making you earn their respect, and I agree wholeheartedly. If you're not taking shortcuts and doing this right, you're learning RV electrical (AC, DC, solar), RV plumbing (tanks, proper venting, 12v pumps, pump bypass, city water, fresh water!), propane, tank monitors, installation of AC units, fans, RV appliances with multiple power sources (12v, AC, propane). You're waterproofing and restoring. Repairing chassis frames. Removing all the old shit, which isn't just removing furniture. You're grinding off a hundred rusty bolts and drilling out thousands of rivets and scraping off old caulk with a heat gun, bit by bit. The work is dirty and gross sometimes. It's mentally and physically challenging. It will test your patience and your limits, over and over again.

If you're working full-time and renovating your trailer on the weekends, I would absolutely advise to allow yourself at least one year from demo-to-done. If you want to have a life and not feel chained to your renovation, stretch it out to a year and a half or even two years, which would allow you weekends off occasionally (without guilt!), time to take vacations, go to weddings, and see your grandma. 

4. It's Expensive as F**k

Our first Airstream renovation cost around $22k, when all was said and done, including the cost of the trailer itself ($4k). We didn't have fancy countertops, appliances, a hot water heater, etc. Our compositing toilet was homemade using a kit, a box we built, and a walnut toilet seat purchased on Amazon. It was bare bones simple in there because we spent so much on replica pieces, frame repair, skin repair, new windows, et cetera, not to mention all of the specialty tools we had to purchase, like a buck riveting kit, polishers, and angle grinders. Lucky for us, we had a lot of 'traditional' tools already, or we might not have been able to afford that fancy a$$ back window replacement we desperately needed. We still spent $22k, and that didn't include decor. We didn't purchase anything special to outfit the trailer, we just used things we already had on hand. Even our "upholstery" was made using two wool Army blankets cut up and sewn back together. 

Our second Airstream renovation cost $42k. The cost of the trailer itself was $5k, which means we spent $37k on supplies. We didn't need to purchase tools this go-round, we already had them. Now, this was June, which is one of the most-pinned renos on the ol' Pinterest boards, and we absolutely went "high-end" this time around. In this case, that meant we had a hot water heater, fridge, and oven/cooktop...which felt like pure luxury in comparison to Louise, and then we got a little fancy and added Fireclay Tile, Pergo flooring, and custom made solid walnut countertops and Belgian linen cushion covers wrapped around natural latex core. We had a heftier battery bank too, and we splurged on a Nature's Head Composting Toilet. Overall, we spent twice the amount of what we spent on our first renovation...and made a solid, gorgeous, comfortable home with common conveniences we'd not had before. For reference, the body work was similar to Louise, and the chassis repair was more extensive (the entire back end fell apart when we took up the subfloor, it was so rusted). 

Your budget should be planned accordingly. While I can understand this is difficult to gage (one of the questions we get asked a lot is regarding budget), I recommend asking other renovators who have done full-gut renovations without hiring anyone (big difference here - they're not paying for tools and they are paying for labor). Note the fixtures and finishes they've used, along with amenities and technology they installed on board. If it's comparable to your desired outcome, loosely base your budget around that starting point, and always plan to spend more money than you think you're going to.

5. The Work Doesn't Stop When You're Finished

So you've done the work, you've got your Before & After shots posted to Instagram, and you're ready to get on the road. You've spent all this time and money and you did thorough work, so everything should be smooth as silk from here on out, right? 

Nope, not so much. If you're getting on the road, for starters, your entire life is about to change. Familiarity, comfort, convenience, support...you're willingly leaving those behind, but no matter how willing or excited, it's still a big adjustment to travel full-time. Constantly changing scenery is fun, but vigorous change can also wear on you, especially if you're simultaneously learning how to live tiny and learn your rig. Building out your trailer and actually using it are very different, and it takes time to re-train your brain to remember to heat the water before you're ready to take a shower, or that you've gotta fill your water tanks and charge your onboard batteries. You no longer have the convenience of free-flowing water into your home, or the ability to flush your poo and no longer think about it. Black tank or composting toilet, you're gonna be dealing with that shit. Literally. 

Here's a couple of tips on getting acclimated: 

  • When scheduling out your renovation, try to pad the end of the renovation with a 'dry run', so to speak. Go to a local campground or park in your folks' backyard for a week or two to really get to know the ins-and-outs of your space. Practice living before you get on the road, which is another major step, in and of itself. Look at it in steps:
    • Renovation/paring down/planning to hit the road 
    • Dry run
    • Moving in/getting on the road 
  • Give yourself ample time when hitching up the first time (and several times after), and have two checklists: one for inside, one for outside. List everything that you need to check and do before you get on the road. We call this 'battening down the hatches'. Examples of the exterior list items are things like removing chocks, checking the air in the tires, and checking the running/brake lights, and for the interior list, it's things like turning the water pump off, closing fans and windows, securing drawer latches, et cetera. **Pro tip: install your water pump switch right by the front door so you can flip it off right as you're getting ready to lock up. 
  • Learn to back up and haul a trailer in a big, empty parking lot. If you have a partner or older kiddo, this is a great time to learn to communicate regarding backing the trailer up, which you'll have to do at many campsites. If you have cell signal available, use FaceTime or Skype...the last thing you want to be is THAT loud, angry couple at the campsite. Using the video capability on your device allows the person standing at the rear of the rig to show the person at the wheel what's really going on, and it can be a lifesaver in compact spots. If you are working with a partner, decide on a set of terms that the driver can easily understand and use them clearly every single time. Yelling 'go the other way' isn't clear to the person at the helm, but 'point the curb side rear two feet to the left' is. In our partnership, we've realized through a lot of trial and error how to communicate when traveling and parking with our rig, but now it's smooth as butter.
  • Things are going to break. Fantastic builder or not, you've got to be ready for issues on the road. If you're hauling a trailer, it's being shaken up like a magnitude 8.0. earthquake back there. On the road to Alaska, we had wires shake loose inside the walls! If you're in that big, EMPTY parking lot on your test haul, take a turn riding in the back just to hear and feel and see everything creaking and shaking. It's a good education - it helps you understand what its like back there. Then multiply that, because highway speeds or crazy washboard roads are gonna be worse than a smooth parking lot at 10mph. (DON'T DO THIS ON A ROAD.) A lot of people think that everything will stay in place because that's what we see in a still image on Instagram, but those trailers aren't in motion! They're at a full stop, leveled, set up and styled for a photo. That's not reality. 

To wrap up, you will be dealing with things breaking or not working. All that shaking can loosen what you thought was tight, and you've got to care for your rig and the things inside (i.e., don't leave your water heater on without water inside and burn it out, check your plumbing connections on the regular to ensure you haven't sprung a leak after a particularly rough stretch of road). Living in a vehicle that you haul down the road takes regular, deliberate care and maintenance - yes, you got rid of that big yard and house, but you aren't off the hook for home care and repair. 

6. Living the Dream Means Working to Keep the Dream Alive

When people find out that we live in an Airstream, the response is pretty common: "You're living my/the dream!" This sentence and varied iterations lives in the comments section on Instagram and in our email inbox. We've been hearing and reading it from people for four and a half years who don't live this lifestyle. The issue with the Airstream/nomadic life being 'the dream' is that the work of living this lifestyle is lost in translation. Pretty Airstream interiors (when parked, set up, and styled), don't allude to the tough aspects of living on the road. Sometimes it can feel lonely and isolating. Sometimes your grey tank backs up into your trailer. To put gas in the tank, pay for campgrounds, food, and bills, we've gotta work full-time, same as someone who lives in a brick-and-mortar. Sometimes you're in transit and your window shade knocks into your faucet handle, flipping the water on, and at the same time, your faucet swings to the top of the counter and when you stop, the entire contents of your fresh tank have flooded your floors (true story, this happened to our friends Kate & Adam). Sometimes you're cold and sick and just want a hot shower, but you're out of propane. Sometimes you break down on the side of the Alaskan Highway and you don't have the tool you need to fix the crazy freak issue (one of our stories). 

If you really believe that all your problems are going to be solved by living in a dreamy-looking Airstream and traveling, you're going to have a good, cold slap of reality once you get on the road. If you're expecting this life to be as easy as it looks on Instagram, remember that it's Instagram - and anyone and everyone can pose for a picture and tout their lifestyle to make it look better than it actually is. What those bare-butted women posing for #vanlife aren't telling you is that they're laying in a bed so full of dust and sand that if you slapped the mattress with your hand, it would look like a dust storm on I-10 coming out of those linens and that that cute butt was a few inches above the ground, shitting in a hole they dug themselves that morning after using dry shampoo for the 9th day in a row. Nothing wrong with any of that, I've done all of that myself (minus the bare-butt pictures, but my equivalent is being an interior designer - my job is to make Airstreams pretty), yet this is why I write real captions under the images I post. I'm careful to share the realities of this life, which are beautiful and ugly, good and bad, easy and tough...because behind any dreamy looking nomadic life is a bevy of discomforts and insanely hard and daily work. 

If you really want the nomadic life, you'll put in that work. You'll sacrifice convenience and comfort. When something breaks, you'll fix it (and not expect someone else to do it for you). You'll read and research and listen to locals and seasoned nomads alike. You'll learn from your mistakes, because you will make mistakes. You won't give up when it gets tough. Hell, we've been working toward a nomadic, free life for 4.5 years now and have watched countless amounts of people get on the road in the way we'd like to be while we're still over here, toiling away just trying to get there while also having the freedom of working for ourselves...and we've had setback after setback, shitty circumstance after shitty circumstance...and we still work toward having the life we want. We're not giving up, no matter what life tries to throw our way.

In conclusion, this list isn't meant to scare you off. It's meant to tell you some nuggets of truth that a lot of people aren't talking about. We're all so worried about making our lives look perfect and together all the time (even nomads, who say they wanted to leave all that behind) that we don't talk about the tough stuff. Airstream renovation looks easy online only because we make it look easy, yet I still  believe wholeheartedly that anyone can do it if they put their mind to it. Hell, I never thought I'd be someone who would have done any of this...and everyone in my life was completely taken aback when I did. I'm working to make the life I want happen because I want it more than anything, and I work my ass off for it. 

If you want the "dream life"...you'll work to build it. You'll find a way, you'll overcome the difficulty, you'll learn what you don't know, you'll find the money, you'll find the time, you'll ignore the haters and naysayers, and you'll work like hell to not only build your rig, but build your dream life and you'll keep the dream alive, no matter how much work it takes or how uncomfortable it may get. You can have it as long as you're willing to work for it...which, for us, is a good long while. 

Our Version of Minimalism

Minimalism is a hot topic right now, and one we're glad to see trending. We hope it sticks around and that more people begin to think about the impact human beings have on the earth. We're often asked for our advice on living with less, which makes sense. After all, in the past four years, we've downsized twice and have lived (off and on) in 160-200 square feet. Yet when we share our "methods", we notice the crestfallen looks. We don't have a one-size-fits-all methodology or a hard and fast rulebook. 

When we decided to travel, it wasn't an experiment in living with less (meaning minimalism wasn't a driving factor). In our case, our reasons for traveling full-time were from a deeper, emotional place that wasn't tied to the amount of stuff we had filling up our home. It wasn't until we began the work of eliminating the clutter and excess so we could downsize to live in a tiny home that we began to notice how much lighter and freer we felt. Now, that's our story. Your reasons for minimizing may be tied to deep, emotional reasons, and that's one-thousand percent okay. 

The important thing to remember is that you don't have to follow KonMari or live with only 33 things to be a minimalist, though if you are the type of person that needs a structure to get started, we highly recommend finding a guide that best suits you. We've definitely read Marie Kondo's book and flipped through Project 333's guidelines, but we find that our particular way of doing minimalism doesn't look very minimalist. We love thrifting and have a constant in-and-out of beautiful ceramics, wooden implements, art, rugs, and textiles that we pick up and then sell. We travel with a truck load of tools for work. Our Airstream home is rarely clean or organized, and if we each lived with only 33 items of clothing, we'd only wear ripped, stained, and threadbare work clothes because most of our job is physical labor. Yikes - not into that. 

What does work for us is keeping our home tiny, along with other things I'll go into below, and to accept that minimalism is a practice, not a destination. We are constantly learning and reminding ourselves of not only this, but that it's okay to want things sometimes. It's okay to sometimes have an impulse buy. It's okay to have a dress in the closet that I only wear once a year because I love the way it makes me feel when I wear it. It's okay to love thrifting, but to be mindful of the purchases when we go...and that keeping a little vintage shop on the side to sell some of those finds is really fun and serves a purpose for us.

Minimalism should look different to everyone, but we find that the driving factor behind the practice is sustainability. We have friends who practice zero-waste, while my insanely busy life and demands keep me happily recycling as much as I can and taking my own water bottle with me to yoga class. For yet others, minimalism is voting with their dollar: buying only fair-trade, ethically produced clothing and wares for their home as opposed to fast fashion, while some shop purely secondhand for clothing and wares. For the record, we buy secondhand more often, as that's what's in our budget, but I do buy cheaper clothing sometimes for my kid when I can't find a secondhand item she needs. She goes through clothing so fast, it's hard to rationalize spending $100 on a dress for a growing child. We donate the clothing she grows out of to local charities wherever we are. 

When buying an item, I do think about it's use, though it doesn't always have to have a specific function. The use, for me, may be making me smile or bringing warmth into my home, like a framed vintage photograph I found of the mountains and saguaros here in Arizona, taken the year of my birth (1985). I am a collector of pieces like this, found buried in stacks at flea markets or secondhand shops, artwork created by someone once and likely changing through many sets of hands before finding its way into mine. 

Minimalism can be an incredibly therapeutic and mindful practice, yet I'm 4.5 years into my minimalist lifestyle, and I'm still learning what it means to me, and I still slip up even within the rules I've set for myself and the rules we've set for our family.  If I had a big house again, I think that I'd likely be more of a maximalist and fill the space, though I'd maintain my personal goal of not buying mass-produced things and instead wait for the perfect vintage, secondhand item, just as I do now in my tiny space. There are times where I feel overwhelmed with the amount of vintage I've accumulated, and I know it's time to host a flash sale for it all. I go through my two drawers of clothing about four times a year and pull out pieces to donate, and we've digitized all of our bill-paying and the majority of our business, save our business cards and postcards, which are printed on 100% recycled paper. Even our client contracts are digital, and we use DocHub for signatures. Some of our decisions are influenced by our tiny space: our daughter reads like crazy, and can go through a 150 page chapter book in a day. Getting her a Kindle and a subscription for Kindle Unlimited keeps stacks of books from piling up around the Airstream. In my case, however, I can't read on a screen for anything and I buy used copies of the books I want to read, and then pass them along when finished to friends. These are just some of things that we do, which are quite intentional, to hold ourselves accountable to the standard of minimalism that we've set for ourselves and to maintain our own practice, which ebbs and flows just like anything else does. 

Minimalism can - and should - be your own journey and practice, just like ours is. It doesn't have to be perfectly lined up and matching organizers in a big walk in pantry and hangers spread finger width apart with clothes in color-coordinated order, no matter what blog or catalog is telling you it should be. You needn't be a fan of neutrals or black, white, and grey to be a minimalist. You don't have to have a capsule wardrobe or live in a tiny house or apartment. You can do all of these things, of course, but it's not a requirement for minimalism. Minimalism could be letting go of a deceased family member's clothing you've been holding onto that makes you sad, or streamlining your wardrobe to only the things you actually wear and finding your true style that makes you feel amazing. It could be cleaning out the clutter under your bathroom sink and purchasing less product, and finding the ones you do use and sticking to those. It could mean buying things slowly, waiting until you're absolutely certain you can't live another day without the item in question. It could mean downsizing your 3,000 square foot home to something more manageable, like 1,200 square feet (like my parents just did!), with less space to hide things away. 

Whatever your version of minimalism, practice it with intention and mindfulness, and give yourself grace and time. Minimalism isn't achieved in a weekend, it's an ongoing practice that often requires great diligence and emotional sorting in addition to the physical work. Start your journey by figuring out why you want to minimize, and identify small but definite steps to take to get started.