When you tell people that you’re moving into your car and working as a freelancer, there’s usually one of two responses you’ll receive: something along the lines of “That’s incredible! I wish I could do that!” or “You’re fucking crazy. You’re gonna die like that.” Inspiration or horror, with very few other responses in between.
I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my teen and adult life. I grew up in the city and loathed it. I appreciated the arts, the culture, and the food, but wasn’t built for the chaos. I was privileged enough to belong to a relatively outdoorsy family— we hiked, camped, and canoed together when I was a kid. I was no stranger to the benefits of nature. Relief for much of my emotional struggles came from seeking outside challenges to distract myself. Soon, I became fixated on pushing myself further and further to see how much I could take before it was “too much” nature.
In 2014, it all came to a head when I rashly decided that I would hike 2,187 miles along the East Coast’s Appalachian Trail, which ended about four months and 350 miles in when I pushed too hard and end up in the emergency room with stitches in my head. But lying in the hospital bed gave me a chance to assess what I had been really doing. In pushing myself to live in my tent for months and walking every day, I had learned what I truly needed. I could live solely off what I could carry on my back. I woke up every morning with the sole purpose of merely walking to where I would sleep that night, and I carried everything I needed with me to be happy. Even though I was ending my journey in the hospital, I went back home knowing that I didn’t need my 9-5 job, big house, and a car to make me happy, and the next three years were spent purging nearly everything I owned to live a more minimal life. The less stuff I owned, the less there was to worry about.
In comparison to most of my other friends and family, I live a rather unconventional lifestyle. We currently live in New York City, but my boyfriend and I compost our kitchen scraps, make bread, dehydrate our own jerky, can jams, jellies, vegetables, and broth. I knit often, and make my own soaps and cosmetics when I have time. When I’m not cooking, canning, and crafting, I work full-time as a freelance outdoor lifestyle photographer; I often tell people my work is photographing anything “dirt-related.” People usually look at my life as charmed or perceive it as totally unrealistic, especially in New York. In a city plagued by convenience and the comforts of modern life, the idea of being comfortable in nature, and choosing to live an unconventional life seems exotic.
People are addicted to their comforts. The idea of “stability” and comfort are enticing. Some of my friends dream of having a well-paying 9-5 job with benefits so that they can fund the American dream of a nice car, big house, and a big family in a suburban neighborhood. It’s the pinnacle of comfort that our grandparents and parents dreamt of. I know, it’s cheesy. But their American dream doesn’t need to be ours. As part of a new era, our generation has become more environmentally, emotionally, and socially aware compared to our previous generations. Breaking the addiction of excess, which has led our society to the critical state that it’s in now, is a thriving movement. My partner and I are thankful to be a part of a blooming community of van-dwellers, off-grid-ers, and eco-conscious individuals that have supported us along the way. We’ve both worked long and hard to be able to have the lifestyle that we love, and are hoping to move into our vintage Toyota camper full-time in February to better facilitate our minimal lifestyle and photo careers.
We see endless Instagram posts about “living your best life” and seeing someone else’s life as “goals.” We get trapped in an endless cycle of “I wish,” without truly assessing what we need to be happy. But what is necessary? And what are we spoon-fed to believe that we need? How little can you exist with to feel free? While we know that our lifestyle isn’t something that is available or attractive to many people, it’s been an excellent lesson in being real with ourselves about what we need to be healthy. A lesson in being okay with change and being comfortable with discomfort in an effort to build outside of the preconceived mould for what life should look like.