A reminder of days gone by

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

I just read an inspiring – and reminiscent — article on decluttering. A friend who travels in an RV (recreational vehicle: a thin house on wheels) writes a daily RVing blog (from “web log,” a regularly updated journal on a particular subject sent out to friends electronically).
My friend’s blog entry that inspired as well as took me back a few years reminded me that if one travels in an RV, decluttering of your traveling home is a regular job. It’s like brushing your teeth, a maintenance routine that is constantly done, or unwanted residue will attach itself to your life and make it uncomfortable, possibly unhealthy.

An RV is not big; it can look cluttered if all you’re doing is reading the morning newspaper. Unlike in a regular house, where there are plenty of hiding places for junk – often an attic and a basement – in an RV, it soon becomes obvious that every hiding place is for vital objects – a cupboard for pots and pans; a cupboard for glassware; a cupboard for bills and paperwork; a bookshelf; two small drawers and a medicine cabinet for bathroom stuff; and so forth. Like houses, some RVs are more spacious than others; but none accommodate a bulging point.

The mentality one needs when junk enters the RV is akin to that of a tidy mother: “You get one new toy, you give one old toy away.”

My husband and I lived for a while in a trailer pulled by a truck, a form of recreational vehicle. At first it was daunting – so little room, I had to get rid of all my shoes or put them in storage. This was a true test, for I was a shoe maven. Now, even though I no longer travel around the country in a 200-square-foot house, my shoe mania seems to be permanently derailed. The spareness of that living infected me, and I came to like it.

The decision to live in an RV for long periods of time is a decision to be orderly as well as ruthless in your winnowing out the unnecessary. You might not take to this at first, but it’s not long before you’re forced to comply. When you walk into an RV, you enter the living room, dining room, kitchen, library, computer room, TV room and depending on the design of the vehicle, the driver’s seat and the passenger seat. There is no large drainer on the counter for the dinner dishes to dry; there is no permanent stock pot on the stove; no stack of bills on the dinette in the restricted breakfast nook/lunch table/dinner table area.

The latitude you have for being messy – even casual – at housekeeping is narrow; decluttering enters your life and stays there. I visited in many RVs when we traveled, and I never saw a messy one. This doesn’t mean they weren’t out there, humans being what we are, but there can’t be many. In an RV, if you have a bowl of ice cream, you wash and dry the bowl and put it away. If you drink a lot of beer, the recycle box is outside the door. If you have a hobby, it better be minimalist and not messy; in other words, no 6- by 8-foot canvases; no wood turning.

And of course, the V in RV means traveling. If one is trundling down the road at 70 miles an hour, everything in the trailer area better be put away or velcroed to something, because otherwise it will be Pix, Pix, Pik up Stix when you stop for the evening and open the door to the place that was neat that morning.

The whole life of RV might be a class in Voluntary Simplicity, a movement defined by its name. You would learn: how to live without buying stuff you won’t have room for; how to love clean surfaces; how to enjoy little waste of fresh food because the fridge isn’t big enough to over buy; how to be happy with a couple of sweaters and jeans and tennies; how to adapt to and love a motto of a place for everything and everything in its place.

Having RVd for a while, I assumed a few of the traits of orderliness, and some of them keep me tidy in a house now that I no longer wander the blue highways. But not quite as tidy. I do have plenty of closets, drawers and cupboards to hide things. I do have more than one pair of shoes now. I am back to using my unabridged dictionary, something that did not make the cut when we first RV’d. But reading my friend’s blog made me nostalgic for the wandering days, a big part of which was orderliness, precision, paying attention.

To Barb the Blogger of Life on the Road, thanks for reviving the memories.

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