Continue reading the second part of my minimalist lifestyle story, discussing the planning of what would turn into a 180-day experiment with office-living and possession reduction.
Defining The Experiment
In the last article, I introduced the term “home-free.” It’s important to note that in this nomadic community, “home-free” is different than “homeless.” The home-free choose to live that way, while the homeless are in that situation outside of their control. The terms are distinct because the experience obviously will be different, as the home-free typically have stable jobs—that doesn’t necessarily mean they are rich or even part of the middle-class—and have better resources and equipment to make the lifestyle work. Homeless individuals typically don’t want to be homeless. That being said, some—not all—who find themselves homeless or about to be homeless could stand to learn many techniques to adapt to the situation from the home-free, and perhaps even reduce their stress by realizing that the world doesn’t necessarily crash down on you solely because you aren’t conforming to the norm of having a house/apartment.
Having my own office with a new employer made the office-living lifestyle I discovered a possibility for me. But the real motivation I had was the fact that my job took me two time-zones away from my girlfriend, and she wouldn’t be able to move there with me for at least a year. The first week of my new job, I got an apartment just like I had normally done all my life—I never bothered with houses as I moved around a lot. When combining rent and utilities, I was paying roughly $900 per month for the place, and it was the nicest apartment I had ever lived in.
My job involved some varying shifts, and was a 20-minute commute one-way. I would wakeup, drive, work for X hours, drive home or stop by the gym first, drive back to work, work for X more hours, and drive home. That meant I spent at least 80 minutes just commuting per day, and ultimately only used my apartment to sleep or relax a little between shifts. I also was on-call most of the time, and occasionally would have to go in to work late or early. I didn’t have any pets to come home to, nor my girlfriend. I only bought a bed and some cooking supplies, leaving the apartment otherwise bare. How minimalist of me already.
Why was I spending $900 just for a place to sleep? Could I get rid of that and live in my truck? At the time, I owned a small base-model pickup truck. Perhaps I could purchase a truck cap like the fellow at my last job had? Researching such led to an estimate of $1500-2000 for a factory-new cap, and I’d have to wait a few weeks to receive it and install it. I also realized I’d have to find a way to insulate it more for the winter, and build some sort of platform to organize my belongings and setup a bed. Additionally, it wouldn’t be very stealthy to get in and out of the back of the truck—a van or sport utility vehicle would be a much better vehicle to live in from a stealth standpoint. So, the truck idea wasn’t very attractive.
What about my office? I had a small office with no windows, a large desk, a rolling chair, an incredibly comfortable recliner, and a mini-fridge I bought myself. It wasn’t shared with anyone. The door had a standard keyed lock and was located in a short hallway out-of-view of the main lobby. The bathroom was only a short sprint down the hall and had a shower—talk about a lucky situation!
Other tenants rarely used the directly surrounding offices. The busiest the building got was between mid-afternoon and sunset, mostly in the lobby area. Access to the building required a key code after normal daytime hours, but it was not user-specific.
The parking lot was small and had transient vehicles—both company and personal—occupying about 50% of the spaces, hidden from the main road and poorly lit. My truck would go unnoticed amongst them, and it was normal to see me there at odd hours anyway. Plus, building management already knew I would nap in the office on occasion between shifts anyway, and that I was on-call all the time. This gave me a great cover story.
My apartment had a 12-month lease. To break it required giving 60-days notice and paying a fee, putting the cost at approximately $2200. The plan was to live this way until either I changed jobs or my girlfriend could move here, in which case we would go back to renting. Coming up with the lease break fee was not a real issue for me, as I’ve been a pretty frugal person for a while and have enforced a 50/50 rule on myself since being in the Marines: 50% of my pay goes to current expenses and the other 50% of my pay goes to retirement.
I needed a new address though, so a local friend to whom I explained my plan allowed me to use their address for my mail. There were other ways to accomplish this, including using a PO Box or using a mail service that provides a physical address and scans mail for you, but having the friend made it simpler.
What would I do with my possessions? They cannot all be stored in my truck, and an office full of personal possessions would raise suspicions. Extreme minimalism here I come.
I should probably try sleeping in the office for a night to test this plan too, right?
I figured this would be a better experience just going all in—trusting my plan.
Executing The Plan
SMEAC! Marines will recognize that one. It is an acronym for writing a five-paragraph order: Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration/Logistics, and Command/Signal. I have addressed my situation and mission, now on to the plan’s execution.
This was a real opportunity to get closer to my goal of being a one-bagger like Andrew Hyde and many others. However, becoming a “two-bagger” for this experiment seemed to be the way to initially transition smoother.
I needed to reduce my possessions.
I sold some things on the Internet/locally that I knew would pull serious cash: my gaming console, television, and some expensive outerwear items. Other items were either donated or tossed.
I kept only three electronics: a laptop, a cellphone, and a tablet (I use the tablet in my job, otherwise I’d toss it too). All of my physical books were donated and replaced with electronic versions—though I had been doing this for at least two years prior to this experiment. Important documents and receipts that didn’t have to remain in a physical form were scanned, stored, encrypted, backed-up, and then destroyed. Remaining documents fit into a small waterproof document pouch that would be kept in my primary backpack, and thus with me most of the time.
I reduced my wardrobe down to what would fit in a 30-liter backpack (not the same pack I use now) and a standard-issue military sea bag:
- (1) Winter Jacket
- (1) Rain Jacket
- (1) Jeans
- (1) Khakis
- (1) Shorts
- (1) Sweatpants
- (2) Hoodies
- (3) T-Shirts
- (2) Button-Down Shirts
- (2) Winter Base Layer Shirt
- (1) Winter Base Layer Leggings
- (4) Pairs of Socks
- (1) Toboggan
- (1) Pair of Winter Gloves
- (1) Pair of Sunglasses
- (1) Pair of Boots
- (1) Pair of Everyday Shoes
- (1) Pair of Running Shoes
- (4) Pairs of Underwear
This reduction process brought up the concern of laundry, as washing machines were not a feature of this office building, and less clothing meant shorter washing intervals. Obviously, laundromats would fill this need, but I didn’t want to make special trips for laundry if I didn’t have to. Washing machines are a luxury item, not a necessity.
Physically washing your clothes doesn’t eat up that much time. In camping, it is common to take a dry-bag—a waterproof bag normally used to protect your clothes/gear in your backpack—and wash your clothes in it with a little detergent and water. You then responsibly drain the dirty water, add clean water for a rinse, wring out the clothing, and hang it up to dry. I got a dry-bag and bottle of common laundry detergent. The washing part would be simple whether I did it in the office, bathroom, or truck.
The drying part would be a little trickier.
The only spaces in the office to hang clothing to dry were a coat hook behind my office door and using the back of the rolling office chair. In other words, I couldn’t have that much laundry to dry. In further review of extreme minimalists one finds that they pick their clothing very carefully, most often acquiring garments made of Merino wool. This wool is not cheap, but its key feature is that it doesn’t hold odor, unlike cotton or synthetic clothes. I found many articles and forum posts on the internet with users who wore their Merino shirts, underwear, and sock for weeks at a time reporting no smell and fast drying times when washed.
I purchased two Merino shirts to start, but discovered that I already owned four pairs of Merino socks—no wonder I loved them—and I elected to keep my synthetic boxers as I had traveled with them before and discovered they would take many days before an odor would develop anyway. My plan was to wear these and only do laundry once per week, assuming I have the same odorless experience as I read about. If these worked well, I planned to convert my wardrobe over to mostly Merino over time.
Sleeping in the office would require something comfortable yet easily hidden when not in use. I already had a workout mat in my office for crunches and such—I would run some days after my morning shift, and use the office for some basic exercises—but, it wasn’t really designed for sleeping on. Traditional camping sleep pads are thin and not comfortable long-term. However, I discovered one manufacturer that made a pad that was thick, air-filled via a built-in foot pump, with light insulation—the Nemo Cosmo Insulated Sleeping Pad (not an affiliate link—I don’t do that). It was expensive, but built well and insanely comfortable when I tried it out. It also compacted down to the size of a basketball, and adding a common pillow would complete the piece.
While a sleeping bag would certainly work for warmth, hiding it wouldn’t be easy with the limited storage space in the office. The recliner presented a plain-sight way to hide a blanket by simply folding and draping it over the back, as if I would use it for naps between shifts. I went and bought two cheap blankets from Target.
The bathroom was down the hall from my office. It only took about 10-15 seconds to walk normally to it, and it actually had two entrances (one to each hallway). The path took me by a few offices, but since the place was usually deserted at night, making the trip wasn’t too risky. Plus, I could choose an alternate route given the two entrances if I found another tenant around late at night. The shower was in a separate part of the bathroom, and thus afforded some level of privacy. It was cleaned daily in the early morning, so no cleaning chores for me or lasting evidence left behind.
Even though I would go for a run at work and hit the shower there a few times each week already, I still felt that I had to make it appear normal to the other tenants that I would be in that office later than usual or between shifts more often. After all, bad weather or other errands would break the normal fitness routine, but still result in my presence. To accomplish this I started to write a book—planned for release later this year actually and not minimalism-related—and let everyone around know about it when they would ask why I was still at work. I would tell them that I stayed more focused on my writing project by working in the office, as I would just slack off at home. This would give me months-worth of a “reason” to be there, and most people wouldn’t track how long it was taking anyway. After all, do you pay much attention to other unrelated employees’ schedules or projects?
Getting rid of last-minute furniture, moving stuff into my truck, and bringing my belongings into my office stealthily would require a weekend, as traffic in the building would be at a minimum. I informed the apartment management that I would be breaking the lease, and set the last day to a weekend that complied with the lease’ terms.
I wrote and delivered a check for the final lease termination costs.
This was getting real.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four
My Minimalism-Related Published Articles: