Tag Archives: more with less

Gathering and making

Gathering and making

For me, stuff comes in tides. There are times when the waves roll in, and the stuff line creeps higher and higher and times when stuff flows out. Moving into a just-the-two-of-us house after a several years of living in shared homes, the caravan and hotels brought a high tide. We have furniture. We’ve started reclaiming our stuff from long-term storage provided by my very generous family. I have more than 5 dresses. I have yarn and paper books.

It’s not finished though. There’s a spring tide around the corner. More things are settling in our home. They’re like snowflakes: tiny, delicate, beautiful and potentially overwhelming.

They’re things like this:

Newborn size handknit yellow cardigan with cow buttons

And this:

Two newborn size warm onsies with hoods and mittens

And this:

Baby vest with Darth Vadar face and words 'You are my father'

All these things are in limbo, waiting for September when my most exciting WIP will be — hmm, I won’t say ‘done’. Off the needles, perhaps.

It’s weird shopping for a baby you’re growing. It’s hard to know when to start and where to stop. Naturally, being opinionated people, K and I both have ideas about what a child needs, what’s good value, what’s too expensive or unnecessary. We’re wrong. I don’t yet know what we’re wrong about, but some of our brilliant theories definitely won’t stand up to the practical exam.

Luckily, we’re surrounded by generous and thoughtful people who’ve done it before. K’s sister and her husband have given us loads of lovely things, some of which I don’t even know how to use, with accompanied hints: This’ll be great when they’re about 6 months. Tuck this away, they come in handy. Try this, our two loved it. Friends have kept things they considered life changing or sanity saving, and have passed them on to us. Other people have offered advice and reassurance.

Considering that Sprout is a whole season away from being an independent life form, she (according to the ultrasound tech) has a lot of fans. And a lot of stuff.

But you know what? Even though I’m usually a minimalist I really don’t mind this rising tide. I love the carefully chosen baby items sent to me from Australia. I love the snuggle lion that my friends’ kid chose and put in her dad’s suitcase for us. I love that my mum has taught herself to knit (again) and made something tiny and wonderful. With cow buttons, because that’s how we roll in Switzerland.

Not everyone is happy that K and I are having a baby. We’ve been told that our (unmarried) way of doing things is wrong and wicked, and that hurt. But so many people are so happy for us, and it’s amazing. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more loved than right now.

Staying in a capsule hotel

Staying in a capsule hotel

We’re staying in a capsule hotel in Tokyo. I was excited to book it because I like small space living, trying new things, and trying uniquely local things. Capsule or ‘pod’ hotels seem very Japanese. I was a bit worried though, because I didn’t know if we’d physically have enough space to sleep, without driving each other crazy (we do – just!). I also thought I might find it claustrophobic, or spend the whole time banging my head.

A row of pods in a capsule hotel. Each is half the height of a room and about as wide as a small double bed

Another worry was, of course, the level of service. This capsule hotel was cheaper than a hostel (about £25/night), and it’s right by (50m from) a main line metro station. It’s also near shops and restaurants. It’s so convenient, and it has free Wi-Fi, so I figured there had to be a catch. But we risked it, and oh man am I glad we did. I don’t know if this would be true in other Japanese hotels (we’ll find out in Kyoto), but so far we’ve had clean bedding, towels, pajamas and slippers every day. There are nice toiletries in the shower rooms, including things like q-tips, hair mousse and toothbrushes, and there’s a hot tub (too hot for me, unfortunately). It’s a bargain, particularly the clean pajamas.

A pile of brown pajamas and beige towels in a locker

They’re not the most flattering things, but it’s absolutely decadent to have someone hand you clean, pressed, neatly folded pajamas every evening. This is particularly true if you’ve been wearing the same few bits for two months, and sweating like a tourist in the hot sun.

So! What’s it like staying in a capsule hotel? Well, I can only speak from experiencing this one hotel, this one time, and it’s also my first time in Japan. Everything is clean and tidy, and pretty well organised. This hotel clearly caters to backpackers, as there are signs in English and beds for women. Some capsule hotels are men only, and that’s probably because you’re expected (but not obliged) to change into your pajamas when you arrive and the showers and hot tubs are both communal and entirely clothes-free areas. It’s not somewhere to stay if you’re a never-nude, but if you’re OK with a sauna or communal changing rooms at the gym, you’ll be fine.

This hotel is happy for you to eat in the lounge, so we’ve bought our own breakfast. You do, absolutely, definitely, I really mean it, have to take your shoes off when you get in. Leave them in your locker. I don’t think anyone will shout at you (like they would in England!) if you don’t, but it’s polite.

Tokyo - our capsule

The pods are half the height of a room, which means that I can sit up comfortably in one. They’re over 6 foot / 180cm long, as my feet don’t touch the end. If you’re much taller than my 184cm, get one on your own so you can curl up. I do manage to bang my head, but not more than I do in normal rooms, so, um, I win?

There’s a TV and radio in the pod, in case you feel like watching something. The rule is to be pretty quiet though, as there’s only a thin screen at the end of the bunk. Apart from K’s snoring, and someone quietly leaving at 4am, I haven’t really heard anyone else although I know the pods around us have been occupied.

It’s not entirely relaxing, but this is primarily because (a) there’s that hostel element to it, which means not much privacy and (b) our stuff is scattered between the pod / wherever we are; a locker and luggage storage at reception. If they just had luggage lockers on the wall opposite the pods, it would be much more pleasant.

I do like the capsule concept, and think it’s a great idea. It’s a clever way of fitting more people in, without dropping the level of service. I’d like to see them in London and Paris. We’re on a pretty tight budget as if you take any number, multiply it by 30 days in a month and then 6 you get a scarily big number. So we’re aiming to spend £30 or less per night on accommodation (a figure which is probably making a few of you shudder or worry for our safety, but it’s been fine, honestly). The thing is, even that tight budget still adds up to £5400 over six months. And that’s a lot of money.

5 things that suck about living in a caravan

5 things that suck about living in a caravan

I’ve got to admit, there aren’t as many downsides to living full time in a caravan as I thought. However, there are a few things that are really getting on my nerves at the moment.

1. Unrealiable Wi-Fi
So many places say they have Wi-Fi and don’t. Or it’s not working today. Or you can only log on for 12 minutes. I’m not just talking about caravan sites – I’ve pretty much stopped going to Costa because they limit their Wi-Fi to 30 minutes.

2. Paying for Wi-Fi
You could recast our entire trip as a quest for a decent internet connection. I don’t mind paying for Wi-Fi when it comes with a free coffee, a comfy chair and central heating but a lot of sites charge £2 per hour or more for a dodgy connection and limited data. I work remotely, contacting my clients online and need to be able to upload files. Not even large files usually, but, you know: files.

3. Paying for laundry
I know, technically someone has to pay for laundry, even if you borrow a friend’s machine. However commercial laundrettes in the UK seem to run about £4-6 for a wash, and the same again for a dry. These machines do a double load though, so the price is about the same as the ordinary washers on site. While this is no doubt forcing me to be greener, it’s also a pain as it means it’s hard to just wash a couple of things separately, like new indigo jeans, and I feel like I’m risking K’s handknit socks every time I wash them.

4. No post
Without a bricks-and-mortar home, there’s no easy way to get post. There are so many things – some of them aren’t yarn – that I’d like to order online but can’t. I’ve had to go to actual shops! The unavoidable post is currently split between three different addresses, with other people stepping in for special deliveries. I’m really grateful to everyone who has received post for us, but I’d like to be mail independent again!

5. Changing the sheets
It’s like wrestling a walrus into a bunkbed, and then getting a duvet cover on it. And our bed isn’t particularly awkward to get to – I dread to think what it would be like changing the sheets on an up-and-over bed in one of the shiny new RVs we see driving around.

OK, those are my top 5 caravan related peeves, at least at the moment! I thought this list would be about a hundred items long by now, but I kind of had to scrape around for the last one. Perhaps I’m seeing things through rose tinted glasses as I’ve just been watching the sun set out the van window…

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I didn’t like #94 The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. If you did, I’d recommend Jonathan Livingston Seagull as I have similar problems with both books, and people who find one enjoyable or inspiring seem to enjoy the other.

The Alchemist is a fable, which is to say a story designed to impart a lesson. It follows the adventures of a man called Santiago. At the start of the novel, he is a shepherd in Spain when he hears a call that leads him to cross the sea and travel far from home, searching for a treasure he’s been promised. The story is the least important element of the book – more on the rest below.

Short book, long read
My Kindle estimates how long it’ll take me to finish a book. For The Alchemist, the initial estimate was just one or two hours, and yet it’s taken me over a week to finish it – long enough t that I’m writing this post Sunday night instead of Thursday. I think this might be a first, in the Big Read challenge, and I mention it because I think it says something about the strength of my reaction to the book.

I dislike the book strongly, because I believe it provides a false view of the world, and encourages readers to treat this view as reality. Also, the novel wasn’t magical enough for a good magical realism (I’m looking forward to rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude, which does this well) or realistic enough to be self-help.

A story of miracles, an age of charlatans
Santiago’s path in The Alchemist is guided throughout by miracles and magic. I don’t have a problem with magic in stories, even stories that are supposedly set in the real world. I do, however, have a problem with preaching based on those miracles. For example, early in the book, Santiago has a dream in which his Personal Legend is revealed to him. He is then visited by a magical personage who advises him to follow his dream, and the book bases it’s advice on this starting point.

While I do think that people should be brave, take some risks, have adventures, seize the day, and other proactive sound bites, I hate this beginning. Either the advice is (1) that you should treat your dreams as literal truth, if you have them twice (in which case, dinosaurs will be making a come back any day now, you heard it here first) or (2) you should only believe in your dreams when a miraculous mind-reader appears and tells you to. If you’re going to try this at home, kids, go for option 2.

You might argue that I’m being too literal. That the book is primarily about following your heart’s desire, about reaching for the stars, and it’s designed to be inspirational, rather than pragmatic. I do not begrudge anyone the enjoyment they get out of this. (Well, maybe only a little, because I’ve now had to read it a second time, thanks to people enjoying it enough to vote for it.)  However, the truth is that in the world we live in, if someone claims to be an ancient king who can read your dreams or an alchemist who can turn lead into gold, they are lying and you will get conned. It’s like buying a book titled: Wishing On Stars As A Profitable Career.

I do not believe

  1. That everyone has one true heart’s desire or life quest that never changes. Hell, that isn’t even true in The Sims 3, where you can set such things in ones and zeros
  2. That fulfilling such a quest or attaining fulfillment is time limited
  3. That ‘Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.’
  4. That if men have quests, heart’s desires or grand projects, women don’t. Neither of the two women in this book travel more than a hundred steps from their door, and all they express a wish for is that Our Hero will come back and marry them.
  5. That ‘there is a force that wants you to realize your Personal Legend’ or that when someone went on such a quest, ”the entire universe made an effort to help him succeed’
  6. That ‘When you play cards the first time you are almost sure to win.’ (This is apparently the force mentioned above. It ‘whets your appetite with a taste of success’.)
  7. That ‘Everything in life is an omen’
  8. That ‘There’s no such thing as coincidence’
  9. That trying to read and follow omens, whether in the movement of birds, the rolling of dice or stones, or some other method is a reliable method for decision making, never mind route planning.
  10. That ‘intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where…we are able to know everything’
  11. That intuition is a good or reliable way of making complex decisions
  12. That everything on the Earth has a soul
  13. That the natural world is an imitation or copy of a paradise

I am an atheist. I don’t believe in God (guiding hand or otherwise) or souls (human, animal or otherwise). Perhaps this means I was bound to have problems with this book. However, there’s strong evidence that simply longing, wishing, praying or hoping for something does not cause magical kings to appear or populate your dreams with accurate treasure maps. If someone can give me evidence to the contrary, I’ll listen. But it needs to be good, because the Wishing Doesn’t Work team has come up with sterling work, and many experiments you can try yourself at home, to produce the same results.

Unsatisfying story
Because the premises the quest is based on don’t ring true, I found both the story and the message unsatisfying. It’s very clearly written as a fable, by which I mean a story instructing the reader on how to live. Part of the reason I find it frustrating and distasteful, I think, is that there’s some good stuff in there. Yes, strive. Yes, adventure. Yes, hold out for love that loves you as you are, adventures and all. But no to the rest of it.

Santiago is about 20 when the story opens. He has no responsibilities, he has cast off his ties, and is free to wander the world. So wander he does. I think choosing such an example weakens the story considerably. If you believe that people should take care of each other, of their children, for example, then having him be young and free doesn’t show how we deal with the complex social ties that bind us to other human beings. Or if you believe that these should all be severed, brutally, in favour of living the dream, then show that. Show us the extreme form of your thesis, so that we can understand fully.

Worse – in terms of the story – pretty much every time Santiago faces a big problem, he’s rescued by something magical. It’s rather like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in that sense. Santiago has long conversations with things that don’t really talk, which tell him things that aren’t possible, which turn out to be true. It’s like watching someone in a video tell you how to climb a mountain, starting with ‘step one, get on this clearly blue screened magic carpet.’

Just cross
Perhaps I’ve missed the point of the book entirely, but mostly, as I read it, it pissed me off. Even – or particularly – the phrase ‘Personal Legend’. It’s almost nonsense in English. A legend is usually an ancient, untrue, story, sometimes it’s a motto. Neither is the use Coelho (or his translator, perhaps) is putting it to, but explanation is not given, only example.

The thing is, I’ve gone wandering. Like Santiago, I’ve longed to wander, cast off expectations and material things (including a yarn stash that must be worth at least half a sheep) and gone to look at the world and see what’s in it. That’s good. But it’s not the only possible form of fulfillment, something the book doesn’t show. Oh, and I’m a woman, and I’m not a prize in someone else’s quest, another thing the book doesn’t show (and that I’m angry about).

I can picture at least 13 fabulous lives I could have had, and having chosen or chanced into this one doesn’t make the other dozen less brilliant, less fulfilling. Moreover, I’m not the same person I was at 20, which to me suggests that we should, at least, have a new Personal Legend for each age, a proposition which, if you have to sell all your belongings and spend three years travelling thousands of miles, would rapidly lead to the breakdown of society.

Oh, I’m just cross about this book. I think it’s quackery. I think it’s trading on the malaise everyone gets sometimes, the feeling that life could be better or that adventure is over the horizon, and peddling a cure that won’t work. Romance novels are criticized for offering an unrealistic portrait of love and relationships, particularly marriage. Well, this book is the equivalent of the worst of that genre, offering, to my mind, an unrealistic portrait of travel, of striving for something valuable, and of fulfillment.

I’ve decided to try to read and review all 200 books on the BBC Big Read list. You can read more about the start of the project or see a list of all the books I’ve read and reviewed.

Ruthless minimalist gets rid of all the things

Ruthless minimalist gets rid of all the things

I believe that there are times when you accumulate stuff and times when you get rid of stuff, and times when you shouldn’t do much of either. We moved repeatedly (five times in five years, I think) so even before we got the van I was so sick of schlepping boxes that I was determined to pare them down. As a result, I’ve been in a getting rid of things phase for several years now. I’m also sentimental, frugal, crafty and a just-in-case hoarder, so in some ways getting rid of things is contrary to my nature. I go at it in lots of different ways.

Start small, take it slow
For me, getting rid of stuff started small. Take books, for example. I read a lot, and usually buy a hundred books a year, sometimes more. At uni, I decided (in radical contradiction to my pack-rat childhood) not to keep books I didn’t like. Then I joined Bookcrossing, and started giving away books I did like, once I’d read them. Sharing is fun! The tipping point was getting a Kindle, when I could, for the very first time, picture a house without a wall of books. I started getting rid of book cases, and now we pretty much only have library books and caravan books with us. Plus the thousand books on my Kindle, of course.

Do it in a big rush
Slow and steady doesn’t always work. We got rid of all our furniture in a rush, giving most of it away or selling it within a couple of weeks. Once we’d decided not to store everything, we asked friends what they might want. Some of them suggested things we hadn’t thought to sell, at which point we sort of went ‘huh’. In the end, we got rid of of everything, leaving a couple of precious items on long-term loan where they would be used.

Set up an Amazon seller or eBay account
Sometimes, when you realise how much money you could get for something, you realise you’d rather have the money than the thing – or you may see how cheap it would be to replace. Once you’ve decided to sell something, it’s easier to give it away (I think) as you’ve mentally detached from it. It’s stock, not a part of your image. We screwed this up slightly, and wound up posting our final items from France, a move that lost us most of our profits on those sales, but we did manage to turn a box of never-be-played-again games into a week or two of site fees.

Start a ‘to go’ box
I usually have a box or a bag of stuff to go to charity. When I try on a shirt and hate the way it looks or K finds a kitchen implement that drives him crazy, or we find something in a cupboard we never use, it goes straight in the bag. If we need it, it’s there, if not, when the bag is full, we take it to a charity shop. I don’t have this in the van, and it means I’ve hung onto, and hidden in a nook or cranny, some things I don’t need or like any more.

When you could lend, give
If you’re lending someone something, consider giving it to them instead. Then you don’t have to worry about getting it back, or getting it back damaged, and when they’re done, they can pass it on.

You can buy it again
If you have too much stuff, whatever that means, then you live somewhere and somewhen that stuff is easy to come by. No one complains about too much water in a desert – you do that in a flood. So remember how easy it was to get all this stuff, and tell yourself you can get it again if you need it. Give yourself permission, even a budget.

Just one box
If you’re crafty and frugal, have small kids, do DIY or any of a hundred other hobbies and projects, there’s a lot of almost-rubbish, like empty washing up bottles for Blue Peter projects, or scraps of yarn, that accumulates and seems like it would come in useful. Most of it doesn’t. My strategy, and I mostly stick with this, is to pick a good volume – one kitchen drawer, one plastic box, one shoe box, one crate – and get rid of anything that won’t fit.

Throw things away
I am really bad at this. I hate putting things in land fill so I’ve delegated this entire section to K. I sort stuff out (particularly childhood clutter) merrily (and delusionally) thinking ‘oh, this would be good for craft’ or ‘someone can use this’ and he ruthless bins all of it, saving about 2 things for the charity shop. And this works, as long as he doesn’t tell me about all the crap he’s just thrown out.

Put things in smaller boxes
There is no way I’m getting rid of my yarn stash. No way! Not happening. But every few months, when I sort through it, I find that it nearly fits in one less box. So I usually get rid of a few things, until it does fit in one less box. I do this with clothes, too. It’s a good way of getting rid of a few non-essentials by focusing on making space for the things you want to use. I think it would work well in the kitchen, but that’s K’s domain so I haven’t tried. He does not share my enthusiasm for putting things in boxes.

Go slow on things that can’t be replaced
I’m softhearted about old toys. About books I loved when I was a kid. About things I’ve made. I keep these things. I tuck them into boxes, or display them on shelves. I take photographs of them, when I remember, because I don’t want to lose them and sometimes I cry or rage when they break or get damaged. I know it’s not smart to tie your heart to little bits of plastic or wood, but for me it’s also impossible not to.

Be ruthless with things that are sentimental traps
Try not to attach importance to everything you’ve ever been given. I love my mum to bits, and she has a great taste in clothes, but when I physically or mentally outgrow something she’s given me, I get rid of it. Otherwise I’d have a whole extra wardrobe of things I never wear. Actually, right now, I do have a whole wardrobe of things I haven’t worn in at least 3 months, as I left a whole bunch of clothes at Mum’s when we came away in the van again. But it’s my glass house and I can throw stones if I want to.

Take lots of photos
Maybe you won’t need to keep that faded sundress if you have a photo of yourself, smiling, in the sun that faded it.

Do what feels right
It’s hard to follow your own right path. It’s easier to follow a set of rules, or to feel bad about not quite following them. There’s no right about of stuff, no adventure kit that suits everyone on the planet. Even at the most basic level, whether you prioritize food or medicine or shelter will depend on whether you’re hungry or ill or living somewhere cold. The golden rule, if there is such a thing, is don’t let your stuff bring you down.

I want it, I need it, I have to have it

I want it, I need it, I have to have it

I don’t think you can need something unless you know what you need it for.

There’s a temptation to divide stuff into ‘things everyone needs’ and ‘frivolous wants’. Sometimes this is for a good reason – the NHS, for example, can’t fund every request so they make blanket decisions, some of which sound quite cruel, about what’s a ‘need’ (perhaps sight in one eye) and what’s a ‘want’ (sight in both eyes). While it may be a useful schema for large organizations, I think it’s entirely unhelpful for individuals (or at least this individual) as your unique list of ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ are going to look decidedly odd to others. I’m all for being frugal and decluttering but you won’t help me by reducing my yarn budget to zero or tossing my stash out.

Don’t ask ‘do I need this?’
Most minimalist or decluttering or frugal blogs suggest you divide your purchases into ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. You should buy needs, but you shouldn’t buy wants. Many of them have a clear cut list of what counts as a need, and this is where it gets messy. It’s fairly uncontroversial to say ‘No one needs a £200 bag’ and ‘everyone needs food’ but that’s not really good enough because it’s too hard to apply. I’m vegetarian, so I’d say ‘no one needs meat’ but I definitely count cheese as an essential, which my vegan friends don’t.

‘Do I need this?’ is a hard question to answer on the fly as by the time you’re asking it you’re already in the mood to buy something. And the true answer is, if you take it to an extreme, that you don’t ‘really need’ any of the things you’re going to buy today. Most people can even put off eating or taking prescription meds for a day or two without suffering an enormous harm (I am not saying this is a good idea) so it can be hard to justify buying anything. My brain tends to fail to answer this question sensibly, either going for ‘don’t buy anything, ever’ and walking out of the shop without, for example, shoes which keep the winter out, or going ‘nothing’s a need so you may as well buy it’ and walking out with the shop with shoes that don’t keep the winter out.

Do ask ‘what do I need this for? does it help me meet my goals?’
As an easy to apply rule to help you stick to your budget or keep your home clutter-free, ‘what do I need (or want) this for?’ is a good question to ask, particularly paired with ‘does it help me meet my goals?’ Friends and family can ask you this without sounding (too) judgmental, so that’s a plus. For example, faced with the shoe buying situation described above, I might say ‘I don’t like having wet or cold feet, I want/need shoes that keep wind, rain, snow and slush out. Oh, and I want to stick to my budget, and the shoes must be veggie.’ It’s easier to put the pretty but impractical / deeply discounted but uncomfortable / practical but overpriced shoes back on the shelf after that.

Using this method I might go shoe shopping and walk out of the shoe shop with no shoes, then straight into a yarn shop and buy yarn. That’s OK. The point is to buy things which meet my personal goals, remember? So if I can (truthfully) say: ‘I want to knit a present for someone / socks for me / a hat for K / a knitted uterus and I need more yarn to be able to do that’ then buying yarn makes sense. The idea is that you have the goal or the value, the plan for your life, and you buy stuff to suit those ideals rather than walking into a shop and letting the shop tell you what to do with your life and money.

You already know what you value
You might not be as explicit about goal setting as I am, but I’m sure you already know what you value. The problem is that in the heat of the moment, tempted by a great sale or a pretty ball of yarn, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the false sense of urgency, and make decisions that don’t match those goals or values.

Sure, this system can result in some odd conversations, but it does mean that when I buy something just for pretty, I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. K and I both have goals or values that might seem frivolous to other people but that’s OK. They’re not things I’d spend the rent money on, but  I definitely want to have lots of yarn from lots of countries (and knit some of it, occasionally) and it makes me happy to have pretty new clothes. I value those things, so I spend money on them. But I also value sticking to my budget and buying ethical, local and/or hand made products, and if I remind myself of those three things when faced with a sale, then I’m more likely to make a smart choice. And to have more money for yarn.

Tourist or Traveller?

Tourist or Traveller?

I’ve been thinking about travelling harder since I read The Beach. I finished the book sitting on the Channel ferry, waiting for the White Cliffs to appear, dirty grey from the rain. It seemed fitting.

The White Cliffs of Dover looking murky grey in low cloud or high fog with two container cranes in the foreground

We travelled some 3,000 km on that trip, but I wouldn’t say we were either tourists or travellers – we didn’t go see any sights, really, just rushed from pillar to post getting things done and trying to see some of our favourite people.

Travelling is complicated – logistically, socially and ethically. Even travelling around in the UK or Switzerland, places where I’ve lived for years, I still find myself having to make crap decisions – you have to make so many decisions each day that it just isn’t possible for them all to be good ones. Travelling means compromising – usually on frugal efforts and environmental efforts. It means eating in McDonald’s because it seems to be the only thing open at 11pm, and then finding out that all the bars offer food. It means, with the caravan, filling up on petrol more than once in a day, rather than less than once a week. It means paying more for a service because you don’t have time to shop around. It means paying more for 2 hours of internet access – directly or in coffee – than you would in a month at home.

There’s an odd dichotomy as well – people clearly want to travel (as I write this, there are over 16,000 goals on goal-tracking website 43things.com related to ‘travel more’, and only 15,000 relating to ‘money’) and yet both tourist and traveller often seem to be used pejoratively. Tourists are frivolous, camera-toting dorks who get in the way of busy people moving around their own city while travellers are gap-year-kids, people with no sense of responsibility treating another culture as though it were a combination of amusement park and bar.

What’s the right way to travel, then?

Blue car and a caravan with a mountain behind

I think this is a pretty good way to travel, with a caravan, and a good way to live, too. It’s not easy though – everything needs a permanent, fixed address. Travelling with a caravan, the tourist/traveller divide takes on a new menace. Tourists with caravans are welcomed but Travellers, as the Roma and other nomadic groups are called in the UK at least, aren’t. Amnesty International has a section on Roma rights, which I seriously recommend you read. If you cross the line, it’s suddenly not just about whether your experience is deeply meaningful, man, or only superficial garbage, it’s serious.

It’s not just the Roma who get stick for being mobile or semi-mobile. A knitting designer I follow lives in an artist’s commune that seems to be regularly threatened with closure by the local authorities. Under her designing name, Woolly Wormhead, she sometimes writes about what’s going on and has an interesting post about being a New Traveller.

Italian road runs straight into the distance on flat land under a huge sky with scattered clouds

I don’t have any connection to previous generations of travellers as Travellers and New Travellers seem to. I’m happy wandering around a foreign city with only K to talk to, perhaps trying out my few phrases on hapless shop staff, so I haven’t developed a community of friends of the road.

For me, at the moment, the road is open – and well travelled. I’m not looking for an island untouched by human hand, like in The Beach – on the contrary, I’d like mine with Wi-Fi and plumbing, if you don’t mind, and if I’m only here for a day or two, I’d be grateful if someone’s already made a list of the best yarn shops and top ice cream places. Last year K and I visited 10 countries (a good proportion of them were tiny city states, but still) and this year we might well do it again. It’s getting to the point where travelling isn’t something we save up and wait for, it’s something we just go and do.

And that is absolutely incredible. In both senses of the word.

Is it greener living in a caravan?

Is it greener living in a caravan?

To be clear, I’m not talking about holidaying in a caravan – I’m talking about living in a caravan full-time, either on one site (as we did in Cambridge) or touring (as we are now). And I’m comparing our caravan life to our previous life – one car, commuting by bike or public transport, etc – not some mythical ‘typical’ life or the national average. I haven’t got an internet connection right now, so I can’t do the research to find that out anyway.

Where we started from
K and I are not super-green, but we try to make environmentally sound choices. All else being equal, we pick the greener option – but all else is rarely equal, so the environment has to face off against fair trade, convenient, cheaper, tastier and the rest of the ‘all else’.

Water – we use less now
In the house we had a dishwasher, showers every day, water on tap (literally) to wash up. Now, every drop of water we use in the van has to be carried to the van by us. And although refilling the water tank is not a big chore, it’s still a chore and we’d rather play Transport Tycoon or read a book or blog. So we’re careful when we wash up and are adept at washing up in a small amount of water.

We also shower less (sorry, strangers on the train) as there’s a choice between paying 50p for a shower in the shower block or hauling water for a wash in the van, so if we’re going to the pool or gym, for example, we’ll wait and shower there, rather than showering twice in one day.

Electricity - we use less now
We’ve gotten rid of most of our appliances – no TV, microwave, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, tumble drier. We still have the laptop – as evidenced by this post! – and a few other gadgets, like phones and our electric toothbrush. We haven’t switched the hot water heater on yet, and the water pump only uses a tiny amount. And as we’ve only got one room, we usually only need one light on at a time – having two on seems decadent!

The first site we stayed at was metered, so we had to buy top up cards, which made us very aware of how many pennies worth of electricity we used. We spent £15 in six weeks, and had to be frugal for the last few days as we were down to our last pound on the meter.

Gas – about the same, maybe more
It’s summer so we weren’t heating the house and we’re not heating the van. We still cook with gas, but as we only have two pans we can’t make terribly elaborate meals, so we’re probably using a little less on that front too. However, we’re no longer sharing our cooking with 3 other people, so per person we may be using the same or slightly more for cooking.

Petrol – we’re using more
Towing the van takes more petrol than not towing the van, obviously, but even while we were static we were using more petrol. We parked up at a lovely site where K could cycle to the station to go to work, but there wasn’t much else nearby. We drove to visit friends, to get groceries, to get to the library – all things we usually did by bike before.

Other travel – probably less
We’re taking public transport less, obviously, than when I was commuting to London, and we don’t expect to fly anywhere on holiday or to visit family in the next few months, but we’re still using buses and trains to get around the local area.

Waste – more per person
We’ve gone from living in a shared house, buying in bulk, cooking in bulk, to living in a van with limited storage space and only two people to cook for so we’ve got more packaging per person to throw away.

Household chemicals - about the same
While we’ve got less to clean, we no longer have access to mainline clean water and sewage pipes, so we’ve got more chemicals to deal with keeping things sanitary.

Personal consumption - less!
As we’ve got less space, we’re shopping less and we’re more likely to wear things out, repair things and use them up to the full as we won’t necessarily be able to replace them immediately and don’t have any spares.

Out-sourced consumption - lots more!
When we lived in the house, we had our own WiFi, used our own shower and toilet most of the time, our own landline phone. We had friends on-site so didn’t have to drive to meet them, and had people over rather than eating out at a restaurant.

Now, as our space and resources are limited (and with the upheaval of the move) we’ve been eating out more, showering at the gym or pool, using the WiFi at coffee shops and friend’s houses.

Borrowing or buying these extra resources makes it hard to figure out how much we’re using – we’ve refilled the 40L water tank twice, so used less than 120L of water at the van in 6 weeks, but that doesn’t count flushing the toilet in the toilet block, showers at the gym, or even drinking water, as we fill that up separately. Sometimes we even wash up at the site taps, so the 120L is a really woolly and useless number – if it doesn’t seem like much, it’s because it’s missing a lot of things.

Set-up costs – much less
The cost to the environment of building a caravan is much less than building a house. Of course, we were living in a hundred-year-old house and bought a fifteen-year-old caravan, but the point still stands. Sort of.

Greener over all
On balance, I think we’re having a lower impact on the environment – particularly when you factor in the alternative travel costs. Last week we visited Belgium and Luxembourg for the first time, and next week we’re going to to Lichtenstein and Italy – all without a single flight. We’d struggle to do that – and enjoy it – by train or with just a tent. For a one thing, K’s car is only little so once you’ve put the tent and sleeping bags in the boot, there really isn’t much room for yarn!

Is it simpler living in a caravan?

Is it simpler living in a caravan?

In general, paring down makes things simpler. A library of eight books is much simpler to manage than a library holding over 11 million items. But at some point, as you strip away the excess, you start to strip away features – which is why, whatever you want to learn about, I suggest you visit the Bodleian’s book collection, not ours.

Our van is a stripped down, simple, version of a house. It wasn’t really designed for long-term occupation, so while some things are simpler, others are rather more complex as we have to find new ways to do them.

Cookingsimpler but limited
K – who is the better cook – might not agree, but having only two pans, no gadgets and llimited storage space makes cooking less intimidating for me. I know what everything does and I know what everything in the cupboard is, and where everything goes. As we’re shopping more often, we’re eating more fresh food, which is lovely too.

However, the downside is that we’re missing a few mod cons – like a microwave and more than a pint of freezer space – and a lot of specialist equipment, so a lot of things take longer or just aren’t the same. We can’t make muffins or Yorkshire puddings or freeze anything for later.

Washing - much less simple
Washing – dishes, clothes, yourself – is simpler in a house. In our last house, say, I could get up, wander to the shower in a towel, use as much water as I liked, stroll back (still in a towel) to brush my teeth, then (dressed) go downstairs, throw a load of laundry in the machine, switch the dishwasher on and forget all about both devices for a couple hours.

Now, washing up is done by hand, either in the van (limited water, carried by hand) or at the site sink (lots of water, sometimes falling from the sky as well as the taps), showers, ditto (plus you may need exact change or have to queue or have to share, depending on the site).

Laundry is even more faff: you need exact change, the options are limited and not necessarily trustworthy (don’t risk your delicates!), there are sometimes queues and you can’t go far for the whole time you’ve got washing on the go – at least a couple hours for a typical wash and dry. If we’re lucky, we can borrow a friend’s machine and do the whole thing in comfort, ideally with the use of their WiFi. Bliss.

Movingmuch simpler
We’ve lived in half a dozen flats in the last five years, which is one of the perils of renting. And moving is so much easier in the van, whether it’s popping away for a weekend or an international move – or both at the same time.

Cleaningmuch simpler
There’s so much less to clean that we hardly need to do more than spot clean things as they get dirty. But we do need to clean more things – like the water system – and we’re quite slow at these new chores.

Yard work – outsourced!
We’ve had a lovely view, a smooth lawn cut twice a week and plenty of space at the site in Cambridge – and done none of the work. Definitely simpler for us.

Home maintenance - totally different
Instead of hassling a rental agency to fix something or check something – or possibly leave us alone and stop bugging us about something – we’re in total charge of making sure our home is safe and clean. I can honestly say I’ve never had to clean pigeon poo off the roof of any house we’ve lived in, but we need to do that for the van soon.

Fewer mod cons, more time
Over all, the time we’ve saved by not doing things (like yard work and cleaning) is eaten up by things which take rather longer, like washing. I’m not saying that any of these things are hard or bad or wrong or even a particularly difficult way of doing said task (it’s not like I’m paying £2 to use a mangle and bucket) but they are less simple than the way we did them in the house.

So far, living in the caravan has been easy because we’ve got time to do laundry at lunchtime on a Tuesday and go to the shops three times a week. It would be much harder with lots of family responsibilities or a long commute like I used to have. It’s simpler like washing by hand is simpler – fewer chemicals, more elbow grease!

Not quite enough

Not quite enough

A wooden table with a blue plate and bowl, plus a metal knife and fork

The downside to having just enough and only what you use is that if something breaks, you don’t have a spare! We didn’t want china plates in the van (stuff moves around a surprising amount when you’re towing), so we chose a pretty set of melamine plates and bowls.

Unfortunately, they turned out to be faulty, so I returned them. I stepped out of the shop, refund receipt in hand, and rummaged around for my grocery list. Looking at my meal plan for the evening, I realised that we couldn’t really eat sausages, new potatoes and peas straight from the saucepan – or cereal, or pasta and sauce, or anything beyond a sandwich.

Buying new plates suddenly became a priority, and as I needed them in a rush, I spent more time and money than I would have liked. It turns out that summer is already over, at least in Cambridge shops, and plastic crockery is seasonal. Oops!

It was a frustrating afternoon, but I found what I wanted. And actually, I’m glad I didn’t keep a few extra china plates or a set of disposable ones around – the time crunch meant I spent a bit extra, and now we’ve got an eco-friendly, biodegradable bamboo set. And K enjoyed the dinner I made, too, although I think he would have preferred it without the side-order of frazzled and grouchy which I picked up on my impromptu shopping trip.