A house that’s brimming with clutter—regardless of how beautiful, expensive or nostalgic the stuff—has a tendency to make your entire world feel oppressive. It was this accumulate sense of stress that prompted Valerie and Jessi, AKA Happy Camper Wives—married professionals hailing from San Francisco—to sell the bulk of their belongings, give up their house, and opt for a life on the road—a life lived inside a very compact micro-RV. If you’ve ever dreamed of shedding your material (and emotional) burden, their minimalist American road trip might just be the inspiration you need.
Culture Trip: What first attracted you to “living tiny”?
Happy Camper Wives: As many people do, we fantasized about going tiny for many years. The sense of financial freedom while still having a sense of “home” really attracted us. We realized a lot of our stress came from consuming so much stuff, and living tiny seemed to be a way to strive toward a happier, simpler life. When we finally decided to downsize, we first thought about getting a tiny house and continuing to live in the San Francisco Bay area. Then we discovered it was really hard to find a place to park it. So with micro-RV’s being so much more mobile, we decided to go REALLY tiny, and hit the road full time to see the country!
CT: Was it frightening or liberating to sell most of your possessions and leave your old life behind?
HCW: Most of the time, major life changes can be scary. The fear of the unknown is daunting and the worry of losing everything you’ve worked so hard to attain can feel unsettling. At the same time, we are both optimists. When we first decided to sell everything and leave San Francisco it was both terrifying and extremely romantic. Embracing the unknown, trusting that whatever happens we can handle it, is also very empowering. Anytime you take the plunge into something new it can be scary at first, but ends up totally worth it.
The moment we drove away from the city with only the possessions we could carry with us in our compact car, we felt so liberated. Living with very little also gives us so much freedom, both physically and emotionally. We want to live with no regrets or missed opportunities, following the flow of the universe.
CT: How has living in such a small space / on the road affected your relationship?
HCW: Overall, living in a teardrop camper has helped our relationship a lot. We are even more in love now then ever in our five years together. The small space forces us to continue to improve our communication skills. We can no longer hide behind the stress of work or other distractions, nor can we simply distance ourselves from the other person when things are tough, as we live in such close quarters now. We are forced to become more self-aware when it comes to our feelings, and figure out how to talk about them kindly.
CT: What has your journey so far taught you about happiness?
HCW: Part of our journey has been to explore the question: “What is happiness?” What we are learning is that there is no one cure-all, end-all formula. Happiness happens in the little moments of life’s ups and downs. While it is a feeling that can come and go, there are things we can do that increase our happiness. We are discovering that living tiny has helped us be happier for a few reasons: Less stress, more quality time with each other, and more time spent outdoors doing fun things.
In San Fransisco, the ever present anxiety of debt and bills plus hours of commuting were hanging over our lives and causing stress. We took that stress out on each other, and it impacted our health—we used to get sick at least once a month. Now, with less to worry about, we’ve only caught two colds the entire year.
Spending less time at work or commuting also helped us have more quality time together. We now sleep 8–9 hours a night, and have a lot more time to be in touch with our feelings and show up as better people in the relationship.
Finally, living in a tiny camper, traveling to many of the USA’s greatest natural wonders also keeps us active and outdoors. No more boring treadmills at the gym after work—now we go fishing or hiking! We believe people are healthier and more connected to themselves when they get plenty of sunshine and time in nature.
CT: Why do you think minimalism is now more popular than ever?
HCW: Perhaps minimalism is having a moment in response to the consumerism that’s all around us. The economy benefits from people always buying more, so “work harder and spend more money” is the message. Everybody wins in this equation except for us.
We believe only owning what adds joy in our lives helps us feel freer. Sure, we still work to enjoy the benefits of financial security, and the sense of purpose that comes from collaborating with good people. We still spend money on things that matter to us, too, but embracing minimalism helps us take a look at what’s actually needed and let go of the rest.
CT: What’s you number one piece of advice on how to downsize your stuff and upgrade your life?
HCW: It can be hard to let go of things and people often believe that useless stuff will one day become useful. We get stuck in this pattern ourselves. For example, we still have this brown towel that’s probably 10 years old. Why? Not sure. The point is, if you’re not using it now you probably won’t use it in the future. Donate your stuff, give it away to a friend—or if it’s absolutely useless, throw it away. Getting rid of the things that don’t bring you joy or functionality is one of the most incredible feelings, and it’s a feeling that keeps on giving when you look around your home and see less clutter. Once you own less and buy less, your world will open up. It certainly has for us.