Downsizing is both a challenge and a source of great satisfaction. But one must be careful not to get sucked into Asceticism. The travel blogosphere is full of Holy Prophets of the Desert (grin), who think that when they die they are going to Heaven to sitteth upon the right hand side of Thoreau or Gandhi.
In fact 'Less is More' is no more rational than 'The Bigger the Better' or 'The More, the Merrier'. Despite the apparent dichotomy, both poles of this duality care more for out-shining the Joneses than anything else, albeit in opposite directions.
Let's look at the Downsizing mantra from a rational viewpoint, and avoid pseudo-religious emotionalisms. The
concept of Diminishing Returns is one of the most universal and true
ideas in life. The first bit of Goodie X is wonderful; the next unit helps too, but not as much as the first unit, and so forth, until you are getting less and less
for each additional unit of time or money.
is such a basic idea that just about everybody agrees with it. So why
do we tend to forget it, and apply it so inconsistently? Why is a
"normal" life set at a point to the far right on that graph?
The graph shows why Downsizing, Simplicity, and Minimalism are
inaccurate slogans: the Point of Diminishing Returns has the maximum
slope. Therefore a real camper is a Maximalist (or Optimalist) rather than a
Minimalist. Why does this bottom curve get such little emphasis?
How many things in your life can't benefit from applying the concept of Diminishing (Marginal) Utility? So why would Downsizing (rigs and possessions) be any different? It's because the obsessive downsizer has made a religion out of it.
live in a post-Christian age. We've outgrown our religious traditions
intellectually, but not emotionally. Most of the "new" secular
ideologies since the Age of Enlightenment have just been reworkings of
the main Judeo-Christian myths. Of course, the "new" ideology is dressed
up in scientific garb so that it looks intellectually respectable. But
underneath the facade they are just the same old rhythms, sung to
The Life-on-Wheels sells itself by puffing
up as one of these pseudo-religions that offers salvation and redemption,
although those actual words are not used, of course. (That would make
it too obvious.) People without any historical perspective can easily
be sucked into repeating the ascetic competition of desert monks of the
Egyptian and Syrian deserts in the early days of Christianity.
In "The Five Stages of Greek Religion," the famous classicist Gilbert Murray said, "To be guided by one's aversions is always a sign of weakness or defeat." A traveler who thinks that downsizing, i.e. subtracting, is an open-ended project, is sadly mistaken. He needs to realize that Subtraction is just the first phase of his new lifestyle. Soon he must move on to Addition, but with more discrimination and selectivity than he used in the past.
On a personal level my "alternative lifestyle" went through the Subtraction phase first with television, motor vehicle idolatry, then women, normal American consumer behavior, salary-slave employment, and finally, house slavery. (The crucial breakthrough was turning away from women.) But I wasn't a real full time RVer until I began to add things, such as my first dog, mountain biking, different types of music, new geographical preferences, and dispersed camping.
Consider a trivial but concrete example of this. Many mainstream RVers make coffee in one of the standard Mr.
Coffee type machines. These are high power devices that usually require
an expensive inverter and generator. (We are only concerned with real RV camping, outside RV parks and electrical hookups.)
I knew an RVer who
once owned a coffee shop in the Puget Sound area. He enjoyed explaining the chemistry of coffee, how different chemicals
dissolve at different rates, and how the amount of time the hot water is in
contact with the grounds affects the taste and caffeination of the
coffee. He used one of those Italian jobs for making espresso on top of a
stove. (No electricity required.) This seemed advantageous, so I bought one.
(Isn't it odd how few retirees know
anything of use to an independent lifestyle, despite spending decades
in a respectable, well-paid profession. It's as if their usefulness was
limited to the organizational niche they filled. Pull them away from
their cubicle and they become uninformative as stand-alone individuals.)
But the other day I was showing this espresso maker
to one of the Prophets of the Desert (grin), Just saying it out loud made me realize
how undesirable it is to use several cups of water to clean a gadget
that makes one cup of coffee.
So I went back to the old
plastic cone with the paper filters, since no water is needed for clean-up. But
this time I forced myself to use another tablespoon of coffee grounds. That's all that was needed to make good-tasting
coffee by the cone method. This trivial matter gave me real satisfaction as an example of
living at the maximum of the lower curve, above.