A few months ago I published an article showing you my single-bag lifestyle when traveling for jobs/training. I have been living in an “extreme minimalist” mindset for a few years now, and experimented as well with “office-living” and “vandwelling.” Originally I planned to write a short book on the subject and discuss my experiments with these lifestyles, but I have since decided to turn this into a series of weekly blog posts, starting here with Part 1.
How Did I Get Here?
Many years ago, while walking across the parking lot to the front door of my employer, a supervisor was standing at the back of his pickup truck grabbing a backpack. The truck had a beat-up cap—its windows blocked with curtains, several blankets strewn about the bed, and a few plastic storage containers off to the side. It was clearly lived-in—not just used for weekend camping excursions—judging by the items he removed for the day and the presence of some trash bags and a variety of clothing.
Many people would look down on such an individual if they only knew him in the context of what I just saw. But he was a well-respected professional in the company and made a decent salary: he didn’t need to be homeless, living out of his vehicle. I had noticed him getting off the couch in the break room one early morning at work when I had come in for a special assignment, but thought nothing of it as occasionally employees would be there at odd hours thanks to outside forces influencing our operations. This was my first encounter with “office-living.”
Where does this guy shower?
How does he keep groceries?
What about laundry?
How can he sleep in that cramped space?
These and several other questions swarmed through my head, and I decided to get answers. A lot of people would probably just ask the guy directly, but I have always been the kind of person to research subjects outside of asking the source. The first thing I found was not office-living related at all: extreme minimalism.
Extreme Minimalism and One-Bagging
Minimalism is all about simplicity and sparseness. In the architecture sense, minimalists like loft-style open apartments with limited, plain furniture—usually all white in color. Sure, that’s a grossly simplified and stereotypical definition, but this article isn’t going to dive deep into that realm.
For a lifestyle, minimalism is about not owning needless items and keeping your life simple.
When I was in the Marines, I was essentially this style of minimalist out of necessity—I lived in a barracks room smaller than the average apartment living room with another Marine, and only had a bed, chair, and full-size locker for all of my possessions. I estimate that I owned over 200 items at that time, but I bet if you count your own possessions now you will find that 200 is a relatively small number. On deployment, I shared a single sea bag with another Marine and brought the rest of my issued gear, living happily in beautiful Iraq with hardly any personal possessions. This, unknowingly, was my first taste of minimalism and office-living: be it sleeping under the stars up against the wheels of a Light-Armored Vehicle (LAV), or sleeping on the concrete floor of an abandoned school with nothing but my gear, an iPod, the company of fellow Marines, and a local dog that figured we were friendlier to hang with. Good times.
Searching the Internet I found only a small handful of articles and blog posts on people living with just a few possessions: the most prominent being a freelancing entrepreneur named Andrew Hyde. In his blog, he listed and displayed the only 15 things he owned, traveling the world in his work. It was inspirational, as it highlighted the simple fact that you don’t need all of the products advertised daily to be happy or successful in life. Everything he owned fit in one backpack, which meant he had the ultimate freedom to go wherever he chose without the normal hassles of packing up boxes and moving furniture. This is called “One-Bagging,” and there are communities dedicated to it including two message boards on Reddit: r/OneBagging and r/OneBag.
There are other articles with people seemingly competing for the title of “Who Owns The Least Number of Items.” Some define extreme minimalism as owning less than 50 items, and others more modestly at less than 100 items. Andrew certainly met that extreme definition, despite adding a few things as time went by. I don’t feel that the number of items is as important as following the spirit of the lifestyle: owning only the items you need to live your life and be happy, while not being wasteful or so entrenched in consumerism. I fell in love with the idea, and pondered the such a lifestyle change.
Growing up, my family rented a recreational vehicle (RV) a few times and we’d travel amongst the states and explore. This wasn’t something I enjoyed as much as staying in a hotel, but looking back it was a good experience. There are thousands of people who actually live in RVs, staying in-place or traveling, but who knew there were also likely thousands of people living in vans, trucks, and even cars! I discovered a community of people chose to live full-time in their vehicles—the most common choice being converted cargo vans.
Vandwellers would often purchase a used cargo van (preferably with few or no windows), gut the interior, and design and build their living space much like an RV. The quality of the builds varied. Some vandwellers clearly had experience in carpentry and built amazing closets, sinks, storage compartments, and bed frames. Others did what they could with existing hardware, still making a cozy spot to sleep and keep their possessions. Many would have simple solutions to insulation, and others would have elaborate builds extremely similar to that which you would find in a house.
For these individuals, the advantages of living in a van over purchasing an existing RV were that:
- buying a van and converting it themselves can be significantly cheaper than buying an RV,
- they can park and sleep in more places without being noticed using a common van, and
- there is a satisfying feeling that comes from completing the build of one’s own mobile-living area and experiencing the adventure that the lifestyle can bring.
At the time I owned a small pickup truck, so I guess if I tried to live in it I’d be a truck-dweller. Less space would be available than that which a van inherently has, but I found out that there are people living in their trucks also. Typically they would either add a cap to the truck bed, or go all-out with the RV-type camper shells you can add-on. I eventually ended up living this way also, but I’ll get into that a few articles down the road. If you want to read more about vandwelling, check out the Reddit sub r/Vandwellers.
Andrew and those other extreme minimalists didn’t have regular offices, so their “home” had to involve mobility. While I could become a vandweller, I had the luxury of having my own office with one company I worked for, and I wanted to explore using it as my “home.” Someone else had this idea in 2012 and blogged about it, spending 500 days living in his office (see The Office Hobo).
The Office Hobo remained anonymous, but in his blog he discussed the logistics of getting away with living in a cubicle environment—an impressive accomplishment given the clear lack of privacy. The anonymous author primarily had a financial motivation for this experiment in addition to the philosophical desire for more freedom by being home-free, and had to adjust their daily schedule to accommodate the routine of the office building’s various tenants. For myself, while saving money was always a goal, I really just wanted to see if I could live this way and be happy—happiness from experiences rather than possessions.
I wanted to be “home-free.” I wanted to live with only one bag. I needed to plan this out…
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
My Minimalism-Related Published Articles: