Someone: What’s it like living like you do?
Me: Easy and difficult, but in all the right ways.
Autumn is certainly here. I’m sitting on the bed in my van, which is covered in the Sami tribe’s finest reindeer skin, wearing three layers of wool. The light is dimming and I’ve lit a single candle. It’s 11C indoors according to the wall-mounted thermometer. Life is currently slow, stable and peaceful. I’ve no source of heat in my vehicle and no plans for a winter let or similar but I’m strangely un-phased by the uncertainty.
This update is to give a snapshot of my life, living and working “houseless” in the UK. The new term has started. I have one full day’s Skype teaching, which in theory I could do anywhere in the country, or the world, but I’ve found that rock-solid-stable internet connections are hard to find (I hate to say it, but Virgin are the only ones I trust). As a result, I usually end up working at the college itself in Exeter, where I’m generously provided an office for the day. There’s also an admin day, but this is more flexible and can be done from anywhere, including my van through phone tethering.
When I first moved into this lifestyle of van+improvisation, I had imagined myself travelling all around the country, sleeping in a different place every night. Not so. As it turns out, I orbit Exeter and enjoy the beauty of Devon. My van is not equipped for full time living, so I often stay over with a handful of friends on rotation, on a basis that works for them. This is something I call “docking” and each relationship is individual and always evolving.
I’m loving this way of life and I’m not thinking of giving it up any time soon. Why? Well, maybe one way to explain it is this: it hit me only the other day that my annual income is currently the same as it was when I first entered the working world 10 years ago. Yet, back then I was renting and struggling for money. I distinctly remember putting a sign up in the post office asking if anyone had spare allotment veg because I couldn’t make my grocery bill. Just think what a struggle it would be to live on the same money now in the same situation?
Now, I live without rent. I am careful with money and although I undergo what other people might call hardships, such as sleeping in an unheated van, I am able to do many of the things that I love. For example, I can to afford a 5-7 day trip away from Exeter every 6 weeks. This would have been out of the question back when I was renting.
It’s worth noting however, my earnings are not based on a 40hr week. My Skype teaching role is roughly 20hrs, 30weeks per year. Maybe another 10hrs per week go on my non-teaching paid work – gigs, recording, misc, self-employed promotion. Working part time, may result in low earnings (for a professional) and therefore Nomadism, but the lower hours also give me time in my week to be creative. This is invaluable.
Another factor that gives me more time is the inherent minimalism created by nomadism (though my friends would argue this is also my character). Wait a minute.. minimalism creates more time? Yes it does. Having less stuff means less time spent sorting it out, fixing, replacing it etc. It also means being able to afford higher quality stuff on the same budget, since you’re buying fewer things, which means they last longer, which means less time spent shopping. I can’t imagine going back to dealing with having more things, in fact I often crave the simplicity that even less would bring.
Sometimes I long for the “ultimate” everything – the best lightweight laptop, moulded in-ear headphones, flashy camera and high performance clothing that would no doubt half the weight of my backpack. But, in fact, my honed minimal amount of mid-range, half-decent kit is really very functional. I’d also hate to have to turn down little gifts from my friends because I’d decided to be super-strict about pack weight. I know a lot of minimalists go that far.
So that’s about it for now. 9 months in, all is going well. Life is much more stable and grounded than I had imagined, or perhaps I’m just comfortable with the uncertainties this life brings. There are challenges (like what on earth do I do when my van is at the garage?), but I guess they are the challenges that I welcome.