Category Archives: FYI

Meow Wolf: A Review

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Why is the Meow Wolf sign shaped like a bowling pin? Keep reading to find out.

The Man and I finally visited Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM, and we had an awesome time. I want to tell you all about it, but please know that my words and photographs simply cannot do the place justice.

Actually, even if I could tell you all about Meow Wolf and show you all of my photos, I probably shouldn’t. Part of the fun for me was going in fresh, not really knowing what to expect. Before I went, I purposefully avoided doing a lot of research on the place. I wanted to experience what was there without a lot of foreknowledge.

I did know a little bit about Meow Wolf before I went, and I will share some information with you.

According to the Meow Wolf “About” page,

Meow Wolf is an arts and entertainment group based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. [The group was] established in 2008 as an art collective.

One painting inside Meow Wolf. It reminds me of art by my favorite surrealist artist, Remedios Varo. That bird does not look happy to be held by that orange and yellow avocado with arms.

The aforementioned webpage says,

Meow Wolf is comprised of over 400 employees creating and supporting art across a variety of media, including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, cross-reality (AR/VR/MR), music, audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming, performance, and more!

Our first permanent installation, the THEA Award-winning House of Eternal Return, launched in March 2016 with support from Game of Thrones creator, George R.R. Martin.

Also, Meow Wolf is housed inside an old bowling alley! According to the Meow Wolf FAQs, the bowling alley closed in 2008 and sat empty for several years. There is no bowling there now and the lanes have been stripped out.

Is this a Meow Wolf?

While reading those FAQs to learn more about the old bowling alley, I learned how Meow Wolf got its name.

At the very first meeting of the collective in 2008, everyone put two words into a hat. Then they picked two random words out of the hat and got “Meow Wolf.”

There are some things you should know about Meow Wolf Santa Fe before you go. It is located at 1352 Rufina Circle, just off Cerrillos Road. Regular hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 8pm and Friday and Saturday from 10am to 10pm. Meow Wolf is closed on Tuesdays. Check holiday closures here.

The parking lot at Meow Wolf is rather small, but parking is also available on nearby streets. The Man and I visited at noon on a Sunday and had to park about two blocks away. The parking lot is not available to RVs, trailers, or other oversized vehicles; such vehicles must be parked on the street. Vandwellers traveling with companion animals should note that animal control may be called if animals are left unattended in vehicles in the Meow Wolf parking lot. Vandwellers should also note that overnight parking is not allowed in the lot.

The Man is trying to decide if he wants to walk through that door.

Strollers, backpacks and oversized bags are not allowed in the exhibit, but the items can be securely stored for you for a small fee. Stroller/walker/wheel chair storage is complementary.

An important concern for many people is the accessibility of Meow Wolf. This is what the FAQ page has to say about accessibility:

[T]he first floor of our exhibition is ADA accessible and navigable by crutches, walkers, wheelchairs or scooters, but some areas may require additional navigational guidance from our docent staff (they are here to help!). There is almost always more than one way to access to an area…We do not have elevators…to the second floor, though, and the second floor is much more difficult to navigate as well (more single steps up/down and narrow passageways). Areas with flashing lights are located behind clearly labeled doors. You do not need to coordinate ADA accommodations with staff prior to your arrival – just know that we are here to help however we can.

Also note that there are many places throughout the exhibit to sit and rest. From cushions on the floor to sofas and chairs, you do not have to be on your feet for hours on end. There are also several points where it is possible to exit to the lobby so you can visit the restroom, get a snack or beverage at Float Cafe & Bar, browse in the gift shop, or quietly create art in the David Loughridge Learning Center. You can decide to go back into the thick of things as long as you haven’t left the building.

So many pretty lights…and music too.

If you’re concerned about getting overstimulated at Meow Wolf (and this is a distinct possibility for many folks), consider picking up a sensory bag at the front desk. What is a sensory bag? The FAQ page says

[s]ensory bags are a tool guests can utilize to aid in their experience inside House of Eternal Return. Each bag can be checked out upon arrival and has items inside to help ground and re-center folks who might feel overstimulated or overwhelmed while inside the exhibit.

Looks like somebody puked up filthy lucre and glitter.

Admission to Meow Wolf is what I consider pricey. The regular adult admission price is $30. The regular admission price for a child over the age of four is $20. Children ages four and under enjoy free admission! (Anyone under 14 needs to be accompanied and supervised by a guardian over 18 years old.) Students, seniors 65 and older, and members of the military pay $25 to get in.

If you’re a New Mexico resident, you’re in luck because you get a discount. Cost of admission for adult residents of New Mexico is $25. Children who are residents of New Mexico pay only $15, and the student/senior/military rate for New Mexico residents is $20. However, every Monday and Wednesday night (4-8 PM) and Second Sunday of the month New Mexico residents pay only half off the New Mexico resident admission rate.

While I typically enjoy activities that are free and cheap, I recognize that my admission fee is helping to pay artists and maintain the Meow Wolf facilities. I can tell you that every aspect of Meow Wolf from the restrooms to the tree houses to the cushions on the floor were clean and in perfect working order.

I don’t know who these little creatures are, but I love them.

I was also pleasantly surprised that I did not encounter a single person behaving in an obnoxious way. Although there were lots of people at Meow Wolf the day we visited, people were being respectful of one another. Children were having a good time, but no one was screaming or running or annoying strangers. Adults were well-behaved too, and not once did the word asshat run through my mind.

If you haven’t already figured it out, there’s a lot going on at Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return. There is an actual, full-size house, complete with portals (hint: there are five) to other dimensions. (And here’s another hint for you: start with the house. You can start in the other dimensions, but for your first time, I HIGHLY recommend you start with the house.)

There’s a wrinkle in the reality of the bathroom floor.

You will see people stepping into and out of household appliances; you can step through some of them too, if you wish. There’s a mystery you can try to solve as you move through the house. (I’m not sure if it’s possible to solve the mystery or if it is meant to remain unsolved, but look for the clues and decide for yourself.) You can open cabinets in the kitchen and find wondrous things. You can sit in the bathtub or on the toilet of the wavy-floored bathroom. You can look into the cookie jar and see what awaits you there.

A fantasy world awaits you when you step through the refrigerator portal.

Once you move through the portals, you enter fantasy worlds filled with art and music and soft lights and magic. Well, maybe not magic; maybe what you experience is technology cleverly disguised to seem like magic. Even if you’ve never dabbled in psychedelics, you will know you’re in a the midst of some trippy shit.

There’s an entire bus in there and a dinner you wouldn’t want to eat even if you could. There are beams of red light you can play like harp strings (or drums), giant birds, and a multitude of items that will make you wonder WTF? Is it art? you may ask yourself. Does it really matter? It’s beauty and fun and color and experimentation and the chance for childlike wonder.

When we left Meow Wolf (after realizing we’d missed an entire reality but too tired to figure out how to get to it), The Man said he’d enjoyed himself but didn’t really feel the need to ever go back. But the next day, we were still talking about our experiences in the House of Eternal Return, and we both admitted we were excited to explore the place again. (Maybe it’s called the House of Eternal Return because so many visitors want to go back.)

The Man took this photo of me photographing a tiny portal in the bathroom medicine cabinet.

I can’t speak for other people who’ve been there, but The Man and I are saving our pennies so we can visit Meow Wolf again.

I took the photos in this post, except for the very last one. The low light in most of the exhibits and the camera on my cheap phone made for substandard photographs. My apologies.

Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 2)

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Photo by Toms Rīts on Unsplash

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my series Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically, life on the road can be challenging. From rig breakdowns to loneliness, from inclement weather to lack of funds, a nomadic lifestyle can be difficult. Dealing with mental health issues can be one of the challenges of life on the road, especially without the infrastructure that may have helped keep issues in check in the past.

Last week I covered some of the physical steps you can take to help maintain good mental health (or improve your mental health if it’s not so good at the moment). From getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods to exercising in sunlight, I outlined steps you can take to keep your body and mind doing well. Today I’ll go a little deeper and share ideas for advanced activities aimed at maintaining and enhancing mental health.

#1 Have a support system in place. While you’re doing ok, set things up in advance of a crisis. Stock your pantry with healthy foods so you don’t have to think too hard about eating if times get tough. Have spare cooking fuel available too. Make sure you always have plenty of drinking water on hand. Have sleep aids (over-the-counter options like Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Unisom SleepTabs and natural remedies like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium) available for short-term use if sleeping becomes a problem. Make a list of people you can contact for support if you are feeling down. Maybe you want to write out your mental health plan to refer to if you get too anxious or depressed to remember how to nurture yourself.

#2 Deal with stress. According to National Institute of Mental Health article “5 Things You Should Know About Stress,”

Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge… can be stressful.

Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Don’t let stress build up. Deal with problems as they come. Don’t let bills, mechanical problems, health issues, and relationship challenges pile up until you have so much on your plate you think your head will explode. Believe me, I understand that hiding under the covers feels simpler than dealing with the problems of life, but most of these problems will not go away on their own. Dealing with each problem as it arises will be easier than dealing with multiple problems that have each reached a crisis point.

For more suggestions on dealing with stress in your life (and the anxiety it often brings), see Mary Elizabeth Dean‘s article “How To Reduce Stress And Anxiety In 10 Steps” on the BetterHelp website.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

#3 Meditate. The Psychology Today article “Meditation and Mental Health” by Samoon Ahmad M.D. states,

There are physical benefits [of meditation] that appear to be backed up by clinical evidence. According to these studies, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.

Want to reap the benefits of meditation, but you’re not sure where to begin? Read “Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits, and a Beginner’s How-to” for explanations of different meditation techniques and instructions for a simple meditation for beginners.

#4 Live in the present. Whether or not you decide to meditate, you can practice living in the moment. The Just Mind article “Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now” references author Eckhart Tolle and his idea

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

that learning to exist in the now frees us from pain while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being. [Tolle] attributes human suffering — depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, fear, and more— to our tendency to live in our minds instead of in the present…

Luckily, there is an escape from the pain caused by the mind’s continual creation of and rumination on psychological time. If we embrace the present moment, we unchain ourselves from this suffering and are free to enjoy the peace of true existence — the joy of the now…

Tolle teaches that the easiest way to start living in the now is by noticing the sensations in our bodies and by paying attention the world around us as it unfolds…

#5 Be grateful and track your gratitude. According to the Positive Psychology article “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief” by Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA,

[p]sychologists have defined gratitude as a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone.

(Emmons & McCullough, 2004)

Another article on the Positive Psychology website (this one by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc.) lists 28 benefits of gratitude including a strong positive impact on psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression; enhanced optimism; improved sleep; and reduced blood pressure.

The Mental Health First Aid article “Being Grateful Can Improve Your Mental Health” by Rubina Kapil explains that

Research has also shown that “by consciously practicing gratitude, we can train the brain to attend selectively to positive emotions and thoughts, thus reducing anxiety and feelings of apprehension.” The simple act of reminding yourself of the positive things in your life can invoke feelings of thankfulness and optimism that make managing stress, depression or anxiety easier.

The article then lists several exercises for practicing gratitude including the following:

Try to appreciate everything.

Find gratitude in your challenges.

Keep a gratitude journal.

If you need some suggestions for starting or maintaining a gratitude journal, Courtney E. Ackerman’s article “Gratitude Journal: 67 Templates, Ideas, and Apps for Your Diary” offers lots of information and guidance.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

#6 Practice Positivity. The WebMD article “What Is Positive Thinking?” answers the question this way:

[p]ositive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation….

That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. It simply means you approach the good and the bad in life with the expectation that things will go well.

The article says positive thinking can lead to “better mood, better coping skills, [and] less depression.” More importantly, positive thinking is a skill that can be learned! Check out the article to find out how to nix the negative and put positivity in action.

#7 Laugh. In the Psych2Go website article “5 Mental Health Benefits of Laughter,” author María Emilia Guzmán explains that when we laugh, our bodies release hormones that enhance good feelings and balance moods, while working against hormones related to stress.

When we laugh, our bodies produces endorphins, which are considered to be the “happiness hormone”. We also release the hormones dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are in charge of our motivation and balance our mood.  All of these substances fight several mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety

…laughter also combats hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones are released as a response to stress, increasing our heart rate and causing general discomfort.

If you’re feeling low, listen to a funny podcast, read a funny book or article, or watch a funny movie. If you’re laughing, you might just feel better soon.

Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash

#8 Interact with animals. The HelpGuide article “The Mood-Boosting Power of Pets” says that studies have found the following benefits of spending time with animals:

Pet owners [sic] are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets…

Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax…

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch…Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.

If you don’t live with an animal friend full-time, consider pet sitting, volunteering at an animal rescue, or spending time with a friend or family member’s pet.

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

#9 Maintain contacts with humans, too. In the Medical News Today article “What Are the Health Benefits of Being Social?” author Maria Cohut, Ph.D. quotes psychologist Susan Pinker who says,

[f]ace-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.

The article continues quoting Pinker who says that, as a result of social interaction

dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.

Photo by Balkan Campers on Unsplash

How’s a nomad to stay connected to other people? Attend gatherings like the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the ones listed by Vacay Vans for 2020. Read my blog post “How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road” to learn more about Meetup groups, the Wandering Individual Network (WIN), Loners on Wheels, and a dating site for RVers. Some groups, like RVing Women and Sisters on the Fly, allow gals to hit the road together. Other RV groups like Xscapers and Escapees accept people of all genders and relationship statuses.

#10 Volunteer. When you volunteer, you not only get to interact with other living beings. According to the Able To website, there are 6 more mental health benefits of volunteering. Some of those benefits include reducing stress by “tak[ing] our mind[s] off our worries and putting our attention on someone or something else,” combating depression by “keep[ing] the mind distracted from a destructive habit like negative thinking or being overly critical,” and making us happy because “feel good [sic] hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities.”

#11 Engage in a hobby. The CBHS Health Fund website offers the article “Here’s How Finding a Hobby Will Improve Your Mental Health.” Some information gleaned from the article:

Western Australian adults…who dedicated 100+ hours a year to their [hobbies] reported significantly better mental health than those with 0-99 hours dedicated…

658 young adults took part in a daily diary study, recording how much of their time was spent on creative exercises, and how often they felt positive moods (joy, alertness, interest) and negative moods (anger, fear, contempt, nervousness, anxiety)… More time spent with creative activity produced higher levels of positive affect.

Even if you live in a very small space, you could take up photography, writing, painting on small surfaces, knitting or crocheting with limited colors of yarn, making jewelry, or bird watching.

#12 Ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. If you are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the free, confidential 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. (You can also chat with a trained crisis worker if you go to the Lifeline’s website.)

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

If you don’t know how to do something related to life on the road, go to the Cheap RV Living forums, read old posts, ask questions, and seek advice. There are also lots of Facebook groups for vandwellers, RVers, and nomads, but with Facebook comes trolls. I don’t recommend Facebook for anyone in a fragile state of mind.

#13 Use technology to your advantage and try online therapy and mental health apps. According to Talkspace,

[o]nline therapy lets you connect with a licensed therapist from the privacy of your device — at a significantly lower cost than traditional, in-person therapy.

Because online therapy and mental health apps don’t require you to go into an office to see a therapist, you can connect to a counselor from anywhere you have internet access. Sounds like a perfect arrangement for nomads who may not stay in one place for long.

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Interested in online therapy and/or mental health apps but have no idea where to begin? Verywell Mind offers a list (complete with in-depth reviews) of “The 9 Best Online Therapy Programs of 2020” compiled by Amy Morin, LCSW. The Psycom article “Top 25 Mental Health Apps: An Effective Alternative for When You Can’t Afford Therapy?” by Jessica Truschel highlights mental health apps available to smartphone uses dealing with issues ranging from addiction to anxiety, depression to eating disorders. There are apps to help with general mental health, as well those intended for specific issues. Many of the apps are free, but some do come at a monetary cost.

I hope among these thirteen additional suggestions you find some ways to improve and/or maintain your mental health. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, so plan for some trial and error while you try out different activities.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Please remember, Blaize Sun is not responsible for your health and well being. Only you are responsible for you. Please seek the help you need. If you need to speak to a mental health professional, someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) may be able to help you find resources in the area you are in.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 1)

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Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

Maintaining mental health is important no matter where you live but can be extra challenging while living nomadically. Some people hold themselves up with the routine of the rat race; when that routine is gone and there are fewer mandatory activities to occupy their time, mental health problems they’ve kept at arm’s length can come crashing down. Some folks have unreasonable expectations about vanlife; when they realize living on the road isn’t an Instagram-worthy life of ease, depression can creep in. While some people choose a nomadic life so they can live in solitude, for others the lack of human companionship can lead to isolation and the problems it causes.

When you’re living on the road, you may have fewer resources to fall back on if a mental health crisis hits. Trust me, life will be easier if you maintain your mental health rather than having to bounce back after a crisis.

What Is Mental Health?

Before we work on maintaining our mental health, we should have an idea of what mental health actually is. According to MentalHealth.gov,

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Positive mental health allows people to:

Realize their full potential

Cope with the stresses of life

Work productively

Make meaningful contributions to their communities

In the name of staying on an even keel and realizing one’s full potential, today I will share tips for staying mentally healthy while traveling full time.

#1 Keep your expectations reasonable. Living nomadically is not going to solve all your problems. (Stop reading and let that sink in for a minutes, friends.) Vanlife is not always going to be waking up to beautiful locations and ladies in bikinis. Sometimes the weather will be bad, your head will throb, and you’ll find one of your tires is flat. (Sometimes all three will happen at once, but if you want some tips on circumventing the flat, see my post “10 Ways to Avoid and/or Prepare for Tire Disasters.”) Things go wrong no matter where or how you live.

Don’t rely solely on Instagram for your vanlife information. Read posts and join the forums on the Cheap RV Living website and/or watch videos on the Cheap RV Living YouTube channel to learn about the gritty possibilities of life on the road. Join Facebook groups for RVers and vandwellers and research showering, cooking, and toileting while living on the road. If possible, know what to expect from this way of life before embarking on the journey.

#2 Eat well. Sometimes cooking while vandwelling can be a challenge, and it’s tempting to just eat potato chips and ramen noodles day after day. Eating a well-balanced diet can help improve and maintain your mental health. According to the article “Food for Your Mood: How What You Eat Affects Your Mental Health” by Alice Gomstyn,

The connection between diet and emotions stems from the close relationship between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract, often called the “second brain.”

…Your GI tract is home to billions of bacteria that influence the production of neurotransmitters, chemical substances that constantly carry messages from the gut to the brain…

Eating healthy food promotes the growth of “good” bacteria, which in turn positively affects neurotransmitter production. A steady diet of junk food, on the other hand, can cause inflammation that hampers production. When neurotransmitter production is in good shape, your brain receives these positive messages loud and clear, and your emotions reflect it. But when production goes awry, so might your mood.

The article suggests eating whole foods such as fruits and vegetables; fiber-rich foods like whole grains and beans; foods rich in antioxidants such as berries and leafy greens; fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh; as well as foods rich in folate, vitamin D, and magnesium.

If you need some ideas for healthy eating while van or RV dwelling, see my posts “How to Eat Healthy on the Road (When You Don’t Have Time to Cook)” and “What to Eat When You Can’t (or Don’t Want to) Cook.” If you’re having trouble affording healthy food, see my posts “10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On or Off the Road)” and “10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On the Road or Not).”

#3 Stay hydrated. According to the 2018 article “Dehydration Influences Mood, Cognition” by Rick Nauert, PhD on the PsychCentral website, a

study shows that even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly.

An article on the Solara Mental Health website, “Water, Depression, and Anxiety” outlines how dehydration contributes to depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. The article recommends

11.5 cups (92 oz.) of water per day for women, and 15.5 cups (124 oz.) for men. If you have a hard time stomaching plain water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Avoid beverages as much as possible that contain sodium, as sodium dehydrates you: soda/diet soda, energy drinks, etc.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

#4 Avoid alcohol, especially if you’re prone to depression. The Mental Health Foundation‘s webpage about alcohol and mental health explains,

regular consumption of alcohol changes the chemistry of the brain. It decreases the levels of the brain chemical serotonin – a key chemical in depression. As a result of this depletion, a cyclical process begins where one drinks to relieve depression, which causes serotonin levels in the brain to be depleted, leading to one feeling even more depressed, and thus necessitating even more alcohol to then medicate this depression.11

Better to avoid alcohol altogether than to start a downward spiral. Best to deal with underlying issues that might be leading you to self-medicate.

#5 Get good sleep. According to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine‘s Get Sleep website,

University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.1

Photo by Chris Thompson on Unsplash

The Get Sleep website’s Adopt Good Sleep Habits page has lots of tips on eliminating sleep problems. Recommendations include

maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule

avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep

making your bedroom a comfortable sleep environment

establishing a calming pre-sleep routine

going to sleep when you’re truly tired

not watching the clock at night

not napping too close to your regular bedtime

exercising regularly—but not too soon before bedtime

To find out the steps to take to accomplish each of the above recommendations, visit Harvard’s Healthy Sleep website’s page Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep.

#6 Consider caffeine carefully. Caffeine can do more damage than just interfering with your sleep. According to the Everyday Health article “7 Causes of Anxiety” by Chris Iliades, MD, because caffeine is a stimulant, it can be bad news for people who already suffer from anxiety.

Caffeine’s jittery effects on your body are similar to those of a frightening event. That’s because caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” response, and studies show that this can make anxiety worse and can even trigger an anxiety attack. And as with the symptoms of anxiety, one too many cups of joe may leave you feeling nervous, moody, and can keep you up all night.

The PsycomAnxiety and Caffeine” article by Maureen Connolly says,

Too much caffeine can also make you irritable and agitated in situations that normally wouldn’t affect you. And if you already have increased anxiety or suffer from panic attacks, caffeine can cause these symptoms to become worse.

Of course, not all caffeinated beverages are created equal. In the article “Coffee Has Surprising Effect on Mental Health,” author Gajura Constantin explains

not all other caffeinated beverages can leave the same impact on the human brain. For instance, some caffeinated beverages like cola, can cause a higher risk of depression due to their high contents of sugar (simple carbohydrates).

Constantin also says a study conducted at National Institutes of Health indicates

People who consume four to five cups of coffee every day are likely to stay active and happy all day long, when compared to those who do not drink this beverage at all…

Coffee is considered the best mood-lifting agent due to its powerful antioxidants. It can help you initiate a fight against depression…

You should make your decisions about caffeine based upon how your body and mind react to it. If daily coffee leaves you feeling good and still able to sleep well at night, go ahead and have it. If your caffeinated beverage of choice leaves you feeling jittery, irritated, agitated, and anxious, you might want to cut it out.

Photo by Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash

#7 Get some exercise. The Help Guide article “The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise” by Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. says

[r]egular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood…Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference.

The article goes into detail about how exercise can benefit people dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, ADHD, PTSD, and trauma.

How much and how often do you need to exercise to experience the benefits? The article says

[y]ou can reap all the physical and mental health benefits of exercise with 30-minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Two 15-minute or even three 10-minute exercise sessions can also work just as well.

…Even just a few minutes of physical activity are better than none at all. If you don’t have time for 15 or 30 minutes of exercise, or if your body tells you to take a break after 5 or 10 minutes, for example, that’s okay, too.

#8 Spend time in nature. Don’t limit your exercise time to the gym; get outside too. According to the 2015 article “Stanford Researchers Find Mental Health Prescription: Nature” by Rob Jordan,

…the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

In a previous study…time in nature was found to have a positive effect on mood and aspects of cognitive function, including working memory, as well as a dampening effect on anxiety.

If you’re living nomadically, it might be easier for you to get out in nature than it would be for someone living in a sticks-n-bricks in an urban area. If you have the choice, head out for free camping in a national forest or on BLM land. (Not sure how to camp for free on public land? Read my post “Free Camping in the National Forest.”) Once you’re there, hike, bike, or just sit outside and bask in the beauty that surrounds you.

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

#9 Getting outside also allows you to expose yourself to sunlight. According to the article “5 Ways the Sun Impacts Your Mental and Physical Health,” getting some sun can improve your mood and help you sleep better.

Researchers at BYU found more mental health distress in people during seasons with little sun exposure…the availability of sunshine has more impact on mood than rainfall, temperature, or any other environmental factor.

Getting some sun increases your serotonin and helps you stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and sun exposure can also help people with anxiety and depression, especially in combination with other treatments.

…Working in tandem with serotonin is melatonin, a chemical in your brain that lulls you into slumber and one that sun also helps your body produce…Try to stick to traditionally light and dark cycles, getting sunlight during the day so you can catch some zzz’s at night.

So there you have nine things you can do to improve and maintain your mental health. If you would like to learn about more activities you can engage in to protect your mental health, see the second part of this series.

Please remember, Blaize Sun is not responsible for your health and well being. Only you are responsible for you. Please remember any outdoor activity holds some risk. Exercise can be risky too if you are not accustomed to it. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure of how much or what kind of exercise to do. The sun can burn you. Be careful out there.

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Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 4: How to Give Away What You No Longer Need

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Today’s post is the last in a series on how to eliminate material possessions and let go of things you no longer need. Today I’ll tell you what to do with all the stuff you don’t want anymore but weren’t able to sell. Sometimes it’s easier for me to give things away when I know they will continue to be useful, that they will go to someone who will cherish them and continue to put them to good work. Instead of feeling sad about getting rid of things, I try to be happy that they can now enhance the life of another person.

Of course, you can pack all your donations into cardboard boxes and make one big drop off at thrift store. Some thrift stores will even come to your place and pick up the things you’re giving to them. Call your local Goodwill, Salvation Army Family Store, Disabled American Veterans Thrift Store, or Savers to find out if you can schedule a pick up.

Not sure which thrift store you should support? Check out the article “This Is Where Your Thrift Store Dollars Are Really Going” by Sharon Meira to help you decide which of the players in the thrift shop game should get your stuff. The article will help you answer the following questions:

What is the cause that your favorite bargain basement cares about most? Is the company religious? Is the business, in fact, profiting from your purchase, or are those dollars going back into a mission? Where do unsold clothes end up? 

Please remember that thrift shops can’t accept everything you might want to get rid of. You can find some guidelines of what not to donate to thrift stores in the article “25 Things Your Local Thrift Store Doesn’t Want You to Donate” by Andréana Lefton.

If your town has a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, you can donate items there that a regular thrift store may not accept. According to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore website,

Habitat ReStores are independently owned reuse stores operated by local Habitat for Humanity organizations that accept donations and sell home improvement items to the public at a fraction of the retail price.

The ReStore FAQ says the stores

tend to accept household items or building materials [including]…furniture, appliances, TVs, lighting, doors, windows, plumbing supplies, flooring, [and] hand and power tools.

Other items I’ve seen at ReStores include lumber, paint, fasteners, bricks, pavers, roofing supplies. My local ReStore also accepts artwork, plates, mugs, silverware, and kitchen gadgets.

Some churches and community organizations hold yearly or twice yearly rummage sales. If the organizers of such events have storage space, they may be able to accept your donation weeks or months before the event.

Shelters for people and animals are often in need of items you no longer want. If you’d like your extras to help homeless folks, see if anything you are donating is on this list of “10 Product Donations Homeless Shelters Need” from the Invisible People website. Women’s shelters are always in need too, so you may find something you want to give away on the list of “12 Simple Things You Can Give To A Women’s Shelter That Will Drastically Change Lives” by Grace Eire. If you would like to help animals, see if anything you don’t need anymore is on this list of “10 Items to Donate to Animal Shelters” by Wendy Angel. You can also call a shelter in your community and ask if they can use items you want to give away. Remember, like thrift stores, shelters don’t want trash. Find another way to get rid of items that aren’t in very good condition.

What should you do with the things that aren’t good enough to donate? You could send all that stuff to the dump, but we know that is a poor choice for the planet. Instead of trashing items in rough shape (or if you’d rather skip donating to thrift stores and community organizations for whatever reason) offer these things to individuals. Sometimes things might be so worn that they’re not worth paying for, but a purpose can be found for them when the price is “free.” There are several ways to offer your discarded belongings for free.

If you are a member of your local Freecycle group, you already know about giving to other members. If you don’t know about Freecycle, the Freecylce Network website explains it’s

a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers…Membership is free.

You can also post ads to give away free items on Craigslist or local Facebook buy/sell/trade groups. Some neighborhood apps like Nextdoor also allow members to post freebies.

You can also invite friends, neighbors, and family members to come over to your place and take whatever of your leftovers they want. If all else fails, drag all your unwanted items to the curb and prop a big sign that reads “FREE” in front of the whole bunch. You might be surprised how quickly things disappear, even things you thought no one would ever want.

If you have books that haven’t sold, you can list them on BookMooch if you have time to carry them to the post office and money to pay the shipping cost. If you need to jettison books quickly, donate them to your local Friends of the Library group for an upcoming book sale or drop the reading material off at a nearby Little Free Library.

Letting go of your possessions may be difficult at first. You may feel as if you are tossing out a lifetime of memories. Feelings are ok and valid–give yourself permission to feel your emotions, but don’t get bogged down. Keep your eyes on the prize of freedom–freedom to travel, freedom from clutter, freedom to live simply and inexpensively.

Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 3: How to Sell Things You No Longer Need

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My last two Wednesday posts have dealt with making decisions about what you will no longer need when you begin your new life on the road. Let’s say you’re at a place in your downsizing process where you have a big pile of things you no longer want or need. How do you get all the stuff out of your life? Today I’ll give you a long list of where to sell all the material possessions that didn’t make the cut.

Where to Sell Things

We’ll assume you want to sell as much of your stuff as possible for the highest prices possible. Let’s face it, money is helpful, and the money you get from selling your belongings will hep fund your upcoming adventures. You’ll probably end up having a garage sale or yard sale, but you might get more from your high-end items if you sell them through other venues.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Or course, if you have very high-end items (jewelry, art, antiques, or anything worth more than $1,000 according to Consumer Reports), you may want to have such items appraised. You may decide to sell those items through an auction house or online auction site.

If you have items that are worth less than $1,000 but are still a bit fancy for a garage sale, list them on Facebook Marketplace, a local Facebook buy/sell/trade group, or Craigslist. I’m thinking of items like appliances; designer clothes, shoes, or handbags; furniture; tools; and collectibles. I suggest when selling to individuals accept only cash and don’t hold anything for anyone. Cash talks…and you want this stuff gone ASAP.

If you’ve never placed an ad on Facebook, see the article “5 Tips for Selling on Marketplace, Facebook’s Version of Craigslist” by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal. Before you start meeting up with strangers, you may want to review ADT’s “7 Tips for Staying Safe on Craigslist;” these tips apply to any situation in which you are selling items to people you don’t know.

Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

If you’re not tech savvy, you can also place ads for larger items the tried and true paper way. You can run ads in your local newspaper or free newspapers like the Thrifty Nickel. You can also make flyers detailing the items you have for sale and post them around town.

Even if you don’t meet up with any scammers while selling on Craigslist, Facebook, or through paper ads, be prepared to deal with flakes, weirdos, and pushy people. For a brief time when I was selling unwanted belongings through Facebook, people asked me to hold items for an indefinite period of time, to deliver items, and/or to take less money for items I’d already slapped rock-bottom prices on. No, no, and no were the answers I gave. I still ended up selling almost everything I wanted to get rid of. I recommend you remain polite but firm.

If I were sorting through my possessions, I would list items on Facebook or Craigslist or place classified ads as soon as I decided to sell them. You can include anything you don’t sell this way in your garage sale. Putting money in your pocket while you are still purging will feel good, as will seeing empty spaces in your home.

Another idea for selling better quality items is to bring them to a local consignment shop. Keep in mind, most consignment shops don’t pay immediately for your belongings. The shop displays your items for you. If your item(s) sells, you get a percentage of the money collected. The shop gets a percentage of the money too. Your items may sit in a consignment shop for a long time before they sell. Be sure you understand a shop’s terms before you leave items there. (How long will they keep your items? What percentage of the sale will go to you? Will they mail you a payment check if you’re not in town when an items sells? How often does the shop pay?) A consignment shop may work for you if you don’t need money in a hurry and don’t have the time or patience to sell through Facebook, Craigslist, or newspaper ads. If you’ve never sold at a consignment shop before, check out the Money Crashers article “How to Make Money Selling on Consignment – Tips, Pros & Cons” by Jacqueline Curtis.

Did you know some pawnshops buy items outright? I didn’t know this until I was in my 30s, but it’s true. A pawnshop might be a good place to sell tools, electronics, musical instruments, high end jewelry, CDs, and DVDS if you don’t want to go through the hassle of selling to individuals.

If you don’t mind packing up and mailing items, there are several website where you can sell your things. Of course, you have to go through the listing process and shoot decent photos, but you might get more money by selling online than you could get locally. If you want to see what online selling opportunities you have in addition to eBay, read the John Haselden article “Top 11 Other Sites Like eBay: eBay Selling Alternatives 2019.” Keep in mind selling online is like selling at a consignment shop in that your items may sit for a while, and you won’t get money until items sell.

Trying to sell clothes? I trust Teen Vogue to be real when it comes to telling me the best places to sell clothing online. Hint: Poshmark is the first online clothing resale site listed in the Teen Vogue article “13 Best Apps and Websites to Sell Clothes Online” by Krystin Arneson, Sierra Tishgart, and Kristi Kellogg.

If you want to sell handmade goods, craft supplies, or vintage items, you can do that on Etsy. If you need some help getting started on Etsy, see the Money Crashers article “How to Sell on Etsy and Set Up a Shop – Tips on What to Sell” by Mark Theoharis.

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

If you want to sell off your DVD, Blu-Ray, and/or CD collection, check out the Well Kept Wallet article “12 Best Places to Sell Used DVDs (As Well as Blu-Rays and CDs)” by Josh Patoka. If you’re looking to sell books online, get some tips from Chloe Della Costa‘s article “5 of the Best Places to Make Money Selling Used Books Online.”

If you don’t want to go the online route for selling books, try to sell them at a local used bookstore. (Some bookstores will also buy CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray discs.) Some bookstores only give store credit or give you a higher dollar amount if you choose store credit over cash. If you end up with store credit, sell the credit for cash. If your book collection is large enough, some used bookstores will send an employee out to your home to choose the books they think they can resell. Once the employee makes their choices, they will pack up the books and take them away.

As your departure date nears, consider having a garage sale. If you won’t start living nomadically until the fall or winter, consider having two sales, one at the beginning of the yard sale season and another at the end of the season. That way you have two opportunities to sell, and you don’t have to feel pressured to have all your sorting and purging done by an early date.

If you’re not sure how to set up for a yard sale, see the article “Ten Tips To Have a Successful Garage Sale” on the Penny Pinchin’ Mom blog. One thing not mentioned in that post is having a great location. If your location isn’t conducive to getting a lot of yard sale traffic, ask a friend or family member with a better location if you can have your sale at their place. Yes, you will have to lug your stuff across town, but you’ll sell more in an area with more traffic or better parking options.

What to do if you can’t find yourself a good location for your sale? Pack everything up and head to a local flea market or swap meet. For a fee, you can have your sale in a place where there are sure to be shoppers. Never sold at a flea market or swap meet before? Read the Via Trading article “101 Hints & Tips for Flea Market Success.”

After you’ve done your best to sell off your belongings, you’ll probably still have items left. Now comes the time to give away the rest. Next week I’ll give you ideas about how and where to give away everything you didn’t sell.

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Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 2: What to Keep & What to Toss

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Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

A few months ago when I asked for suggestions for blog posts of particular interest to nomads, rubber tramps, full-time RVers, vandwellers, vagabonds, and travelers of all kinds, a couple of people asked me to write about paring down belongings in order to get ready for life on the road, or, more broadly, how to let go. Last week I gave ideas about how to organize your purge and how to decide if an item was no longer necessary for your life on the road. Today I’ll cover specific categories of items and give you my ideas about what you might and might not need.

Clothing

I can commiserate with folks whose closets and drawers are full of clothes. For someone who’s not a fashion plate, I do tend to have a lot of clothing. Although most of what I wear comes from thrift stores and free boxes, even when I lived in a van I usually had more than I needed.

Some time back, I read an informative post on the Interstellar Orchard blog about how the author (a full-time nomad) coordinates her clothing to make the most of her wardrobe. You may want to read the post “RVing Wardrobe” to learn how she puts her clothing together so a few pieces make several outfits.

A friend of mine who travels extensively for half of each year replaced his wardrobe with quick drying clothes that fold small for easy storing. If you don’t have extra money for a complete new wardrobe, by all means, use what you have. However, if you have funds set aside for this life transition, an easy-to-store wardrobe might be a good investment.

Whether you can afford new clothes or not, you are probably going to have to get eliminate some of your current wardrobe.

As you purge clothing, consider the one-year rule I mentioned in part 1 of this series. Anything you haven’t worn in a year probably should go.

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Be ready to try on items as you sort. Toss anything that doesn’t fit your body into your “sell” or “donate” container. Sure, you might lose weight on the road, but you might not. Do you really have room in your rig for a second “maybe” wardrobe? In my experience (even as a plus size woman who wears XXL), it’s fairly easy to pick up clothing in thrift stores when your old ones don’t fit.

Keeping your wardrobe to a minimum may mean you have to do laundry more often, but using less space for clothing may be be worth spending two hours in a laundromat every week or so. I like to keep a two-week supply of socks and underwear. These small items are easier to store than outerwear. I can wear the same skirt and shirt for a week, but I do like to change my socks and underwear every day. I could get by with three shirts, three skirts or pairs of pants, and 14 pairs of socks and 14 pairs of underpants. At the end of two weeks, I’d put on my last clean clothes and wash everything else. This bare minimum may not work of you and that’s ok! You just need to decide what your minimum is.

Before you settle on your on-the-road wardrobe, ask yourself some questions. Can I wear the same outer garments for more than one day? How many days can I wear clothes without washing them? Would I feel better about rotating the clothes I’m going to wear again rather than wearing them several days in a row? Would I feel better about wearing garments multiple times if I could air them out between wearing or squirt them with Febreze? Do I really need to wear a nightgown or pajamas to bed, or could I sleep naked or in underpants and the t-shirt I’ll wear tomorrow? Everyone will answer these questions differently. That ok! We each must decide what works best for our individual situation.

If you will spend winter somewhere cold, you’re going to need more clothing. I like the thin but warm long underwear by Cuddl Duds. If you are carrying a puffy coat for winter wear, you may be able to store it in a compression sack when not in use. You could also store bulky winter clothes in those plastic bags that you roll to push the air out of. I’ve used several different brands of such bags and they always seem to rip or come apart at the seams, but they’re really great while they last.

Shoes

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

I own way too many pairs of shoes, although in my defense, all but my red cowgirl boots were free or cost under $5. You will probably need more than one pair of shoes in your life, but again, think about how little you can get away with.

You need at least one pair of sturdy shoes for daily walking around. You’ll save space if your everyday shoes can also be worn when you go on a hike or brisk walk. For example, I’ve worn Keen sandals as my everyday shoes; they were also great on casual hikes and walks through the park. Currently I have a pair of L.L. Bean hiking shoes (courtesy of the magic of a free table) that I wear when I’m running errands but which also carried me through a natural landmark, three national parks, and a national monument.

You’ll also need a pair of shower shoes. I recommend you don’t skip shower shoes. The space you save by doing without a pair of shoes you can wear in the shower of campgrounds, gyms, or community swimming pools will not be worth it if you pick up some foot nasties. If you’re really tight for space, your shower shoes can double as slip-on shoes to put on quickly if you have to go outside your rig in a hurry. I have a pair of Crocs I can wear in the shower and wear outside my rig when I don’t feel like putting on and tying my regular shoes.

Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

It’s nice to have a pair of rain boots or other waterproof shoes to wear when the ground is wet. Again, it’s great if one pair of shoes can do double duty. I had a pair of Keen boots that were waterproof. I wore them as my daily shoes and my hiking shoes, and I didn’t need something different in the rain or snow.

You may need a pair of dressy shoes if you dress up and go out or if you plan to interview for a job or work in a place that requires footware other than hiking boots and flip flops. Every pair of shoes you own should be comfortable. There’s no sense hauling around shoes that hurt your feet. If any of your shoes are uncomfortable, set a goal to replace them as your budget allows.

Jewelry

If you’re one of those people who likes to have different jewelry to go with each outfit, eliminate jewelry as you eliminate clothing. If you do keep jewelry, find a way to store it that takes minimal space. Instead of using a jewelry box, use a jewelry roll or a jewelry burrito made by a traveling gal.

Bedding

I recommend you have two sets of sheets, each set comprised of a flat and a fitted or two flat sheets. Matching is optional. You should also have two pillow cases for each pillow. With two sets of sheets and pillowcases, you can strip the bed on laundry day and immediately put on fresh sheets. After the dirty sheets are washed, you only have to store one set.

You’ll also need enough blankets to stay warm in the climate you’re sleeping in. A rectangular sleeping bag can be unzipped and used as a comforter; on a really cold night, you can zip the bag and sleep inside for added warmth. (If you need more tips on staying warm, see my post “15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Cold.”)

Bathroom

Can you get by with one towel? Microfiber towels are great! They fold up smaller than a regular bath towel and dry quickly. I have a “hot yoga” towel my sibling bought for me at a thrift store. I like it because I can wrap it around my whole self but fold it smaller than a conventional bath towel. It dries faster than a conventional towel too. (For help picking a microfiber towel, see the Traveling Lifestyle article “7 Best Microfiber Towels for Backpackers & Light Travelers” by Viktor Vincej.)

Kitchen

If you need new kitchen equipment, look for collapsible items like dishpans, measuring cups, funnels, and strainers. Get an adjustable measuring spoon instead of a set with different sizes. Instead of a kettle, heat water in a metal cup or in a saucepan which can also be used in regular meal prep. A bowl does double duty holding wet and dry food. Have only one cup, bowl, and set of utensils for each person who lives in your rig.

Tools

Be honest with yourself about what tools you will actually use while you are on the road. Once your rig is built out the way you want it, you probably won’t need power tools unless you plan to use them to make money. If you do need a building tool at some point, check into renting before you buy.

If you’re going to do repairs and basic maintenance or your rig, pack the right tools to complete the job. Some auto parts stores will loan you tools when you buy parts from them. Autozone, Advance Auto Parts, Pep Boys, and O’Reilly Auto Parts all have loaner tool programs. Deposits are required, but you get your money back when you return the tools.

Books

I collect books from free piles, BookMooch, and Little Free Libraries, always with the intention of reading them and passing them on someday. I also have several books that I want to keep forever. All this to say, I may not be the best person to tell you how to live without books! However, even I know some ways to minimize the physical bulk of your reading material.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash

If you have an e-book reader, you can read lots of books and periodicals without using up a lot of your precious space. You can also read on your phone or tablet. Free-Ebooks.net, Project Gutenberg, BookBub, and many other websites offer free e-books.

If you own a stack of reference books, maybe you can get rid of them and find the same information online.

Some people (me!) would rather read a book made from paper instead of relying on electronics. A real book doesn’t run out of battery power, isn’t likely to be substantially damaged if dropped, and can be found free or cheap at library book sales, garage sales, Little Free Libraries, thrift shops, or from BookMooch. If you do want to read physical books, keep only a few on hand, donate each one after you’ve read it, and only pick up one book to read when you rotate out the one you’ve finished.

Music

Do you still have a CD collection? While easier to store than LPs or cassette tapes, CDs can still take up quite a bit of room. I advise you to transfer your CD collection to a computer, then put those files on your phone or MP3 player. Once your music is stored, you can ditch the CDs. Another option is to keep the CDs and store them on a spindle or in a binder and ditch only the cases.

There are also many sites that let you stream music for free. The How-To Geek website offers a list of “The Best Sites for Streaming Free Music.”

Movies

If you have a DVD collection, most everything I said about CDs applies to you too. Jettison the DVDs or at least the cases.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

There are so many ways to watch movies for free online! Check out the following articles to help you get free entertainment: “The 9 Best Free Movie Apps to Watch Movies Online,” “How to Watch Movies Online for Free–Legally,”and “19 Best Free Movie Websites.”

You can also pay for streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go. Maybe a friend or family member will share their password with you if they already pay for one of these services

If all else fails, rent a movie from Red Box. Did you know you can return a Red Box movie to a Red Box in a town other than where you rented it?

Photographs and Letters

Scan or take digital photos of all the photographs and letters you want to save. Save the digital copies on a thumb drive, tablet, or external hard drive. Send your printed copies of the photos to the people in them or to people who love the people in them. If no one in your family wants to be the steward of ancestral letters, maybe you can donate the originals to an archive or museum.

Financial Documents

We’ve probably all wondered how long we should keep bank statements, check stubs, and copies of our tax returns. Do you really need to pack all of that stuff with you when you leave your sticks-n-bricks? The Finra article “Save or Shred: How Long You Should Keep Financial Documents” will help you decide what is safe to ditch before you hit the road.

Collections

It’s going to be difficult to have a collection while living in a small rig. If you must collect, try small things like pressed pennies, national park tokens, matchbooks, or postcards. If you live in a larger rig, perhaps you can choose the best specimens from your collection and find creative ways to display them.

Craft Items

If I knew how to downsize craft items, I would do it myself. Limit yourself to one tub of craft items? Only do tiny crafts? Really, you’re on your own here.

I hope my suggestions help you make decisions about what possessions are worth incorporating into your life as a nomad and which should find a new role with someone else.

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Eliminating Material Possessions/Letting Go Part 1: First Steps

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Chevy van parked on street under streetlamp
Photo by Julian Schultz on Unsplash

You’re going to do it! You’re going to move out of your sticks-n-bricks home, hit the road, and live nomadically. The problem is, you have so much stuff. How are you going to fit everything you own into your rig? I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re probably not going to be able to take everything you own with you on the road. If you’re living like the average American, you probably have more possessions than you can shove into a van, car, truck camper, pull-behind trailer, or even a large motorhome or 5th wheel. Today and for the next three Wednesdays, I’ll share my ideas for purging your material possessions as well as what you should keep for life on the road.

You’re lucky if you can purge before you leave your conventional home. Whether you’re hitting the road in a week, a month, or a year, your first step will be to cull your possessions mercilessly. You will need to look at every single item you own and decide whether it has a place in your nomadic life. Overwhelming? Yes. Necessary? Also yes.

Small camper parked immediately to the side of a dirt road
Photo by Leo Foureaux on Unsplash

Be prepared to go through the culling process several times. You may think you’ve done a great job by selling and donating 50% of your material possessions only to find you still have 75% more things than will fit in your rig. You may stuff your rig with belongings and after a week or a month (or a year!) decide you can no longer live with all the material possessions you’ve crammed into your space. That’s ok! Downsizing may be an ongoing process for a long time.

Many people have written books or developed systems designed to help other people declutter and organize. Some of these people have good ideas, but remember they are trying to help you live better in a conventional sticks-n-bricks home or an apartment. Such methods are not intended for people planning to move into a van or RV, much less a car or an SUV, and won’t be presented with folks like us in mind. By all means, look into the methods available, but be prepared to pick and choose the tips that will work for you.

Some systems for organizing will be based on you buying things. You may be advised to buy baskets, storage cubes, drawer organizers, dish racks, or any number of other things. There’s no shame in not wanting to or being able to rush out and buy more stuff. Think about what you already have that might work before you buy anything. Maybe you own storage containers that would work for what you want to do. If not, maybe you can build what you need. Have a look at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore or other thrift shop for items you can use before you buy new things.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Recently there has been a lot of talk (and many jokes) about a method for purging that encourages people to discard all items that don’t “spark joy.” Joy is great. I’m all for joy. When it comes to clothing, jewelry, shoes, and decorations or knickknacks, sure, jettison anything that doesn’t spark joy. However, some items are utilitarian, and you may only experience joy when the object allows you to get things done. You may not feel joy from your tire jack or can opener until you change a flat or open a can of beans, but you still need to carry those items with you every day.

Another school of thought is that you should only keep items that serve multiple purposes. When I lived in my van, almost nothing I owned served more than one purpose. A potholder is only a potholder, a spoon is only a spoon, and a can of Fix-of-Flat is only a can of Fix-a-Flat. Yes, an item that serves more than one purpose is great, but I suggest you take this “multi-purpose” advice with a grain of salt.

When you’re ready to start your culling process (and it’s never too soon to begin), I suggest you take it one room at a time. Get some containers to hold the items you’re going to get rid of. I suggest you use 18 gallon plastic tubs, but cardboard boxes or large garbage bags work too. Don’t fill overfill your containers; you want to be able to move them when necessary.  

Label one container “trash.” Into this tub you will put items no one wants, such as used razor blades, sticky rubber bands that have lost their elasticity, dry ink pens, and outdated medication. (Please dispose of old medication properly.)

Label the second container “sell.” Into this container you will put everything you think you might be able to sell. You probably want your wallet to be as fat as possible when you hit the road, so try to sell as much as you can. You may be surprised by what bargain hunters at yard sales will buy! Whatever you don’t sell, you can donate later. (In the third post in this series, I’ll give you a list of places where you can try to sell your belongings.)

Label the third container “donate.” Into this container you will put the things you want to give away. If you already know you want to give the quilt your grandmother made in 1926 to your great-niece, go ahead and put it into this container. During your first go round, you will probably have more items in the “sell” container than in the “donate” container, but as things don’t sell, move them over to “donate.” (In the fourth post in this series, I will give you lots of suggestions about where to donate things.)

As you fill containers, put all of the items you want to sell together in one area. Put the containers holding items to give away in another area. Don’t get the items mixed up. Having the containers labeled will (hopefully) keep you from getting confused. Keep these containers away from items you’re not tossing.

Interior hallway of a storage unit facility
Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Label another container “storage.” Into this container you’ll put items you don’t want to get rid of but you don’t want to carry around in your rig. I suggest you put as little as possible into this container!!! I am mostly opposed to storing belongings. If you’re paying for a storage unit, you’re basically letting your money float off into the wind. Before paying for storage, ask yourself how difficult it would be to replace the items you’re thinking about storing. Also, how much would it cost to replace the items? Could you replace the items with less expensive or used items? If the items are easy to replace and would cost less than the equivalent of a couple month’s storage fees, consider ditching the items and replacing them later if you need to.

Think about how far from the stored items you’ll be if you need them. If you stay in the same town as your storage unit, it might make more sense to store some belongings. If your spare forks are in New Jersey and you’re in Oregon when you need a replacement, paying the monthly fee to house the spares has been pretty much pointless.

If you’re planning to pay to store family heirlooms, you may want to ask yourself why. Are you saving the items for a family member who can’t take them now? If that’s the case, let the family member pay to store them! Are you sure the family member really wants the items? Perhaps the family member can’t take the items because they don’t want them. Now would be a good time to have a frank discussion about the expectations surrounding the responsibility for family possessions, who wants to inherit what, and who could care less. Maybe everyone in the family would be happy to sell the heirlooms and split the money. Maybe everyone would be fine with giving the heirlooms to a third cousin once removed who’d really, really like to have them.

Even if you don’t have to pay for storage because you’re keeping some things at a friend’s or family member’s place, consider what a headache this might turn out to be. What if the person storing your belongings moves? Will that person resent having to move your things too? What if there is a fire or flood and your items are destroyed? Are you belongings covered under your friend or family member’s insurance? What if you and the person storing your things have a fight? Will you ever see your belongings again? I have stored my possessions with individuals, but I suggest you avoid doing so if you can.

If you want, label one more container “to deal with later.” Into this container you’ll put items like CDs you want to copy to your laptop or external hard drive, letters and photos you want to scan, and financial documents you need time to look through. Again, I suggest you don’t put too much into this container.

Next week I’ll give you specific information about what I think is worth keeping and what I think is better left behind. I’ll cover categories like clothing, shoes, bedding, books, crafts, and tools. In the meantime, I’ll give you some general suggestions for how to decide what should stay and what should go.

sweaters and shirts on shelves in a closet
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As you go through each room where you’re currently living, look at one item at a time. For practical items (clothes, umbrellas, kitchen gadgets), first use the one-year rule. If you haven’t worn or used the item in at least a year, toss it directly into the “sell” or “donate” container. If you haven’t worn or used an item in a year, you probably won’t suddenly need it while you’re living in your van or RV.

If an item passes the one-year test, consider if it is practical for your new lifestyle. Can you even run a stand mixer, bread machine, or microwave oven off the power system in your rig? Do you need a pair of strappy high heels while you’re exploring national parks? If you’re not going to use an item, don’t carry it out to your rig.

As you consider items, ask yourself if you could make a life change that would make the item in question obsolete. Could you get a haircut that leaves your hair easy to style, thus doing away with your need for a curling iron, hairspray, and barrettes? What if you stop coloring your hair and left behind boxes of hair dye kits? Might now be the time to limit the amount of makeup you wear so you need to lug around fewer cosmetics? Could you do most of your cooking in one cast iron skillet instead of dragging around an assortment of pots and pans?

Think about items of which you have multiples. Do you need all of them? Must you have 5 (or 8 or 11) plain black t-shirts? Do you need several pairs of flip flops? How many hair scrunchies can one person use? Can you made do with one pair of winter gloves? Do you need multiple pairs of reading glasses or sunglasses? Pick your favorite of what you have many of and jettison the rest. Having a couple of spares of small things like glasses is fine, but don’t go overboard.

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

For some items, it is a good idea to consider the joy they bring. If you’re going to have one bowl, sure, use the one that makes you happy. If your wardrobe is going to include only three t-shirts, choose the ones that fit best, look good, and feel most comfortable. If you’re going to allow yourself one book, make sure it’s one you really want to read.

If it helps you get rid of things you can’t possibly take with you anyway, think about the joy another person will get when they use an item you give away. Another hiker will appreciate the backpack you can no longer use. Your sibling may love to have the fancy cloth your mom put on the table every Christmas. Your spare blankets will bring warmth to homeless folks during the winter. Just because an item is no longer a part of your life doesn’t mean its usefulness is over.

Some items will be easy to toss into your “sell” or “donate” containers. Others will be a struggle to part with; it’s ok to sit with those decisions for a while. Just remember, living nomadically will bring benefits that a Def Leppard t-shirt or a food processor never will. Watching a beautiful sunset or seeing a full moon rise over the ocean will make your nomad’s heart soar. Traveling with the weather so you miss the worst of the heat and the cold is freeing in a way all the shoes in the world can never be.

If you’re a nomad, how did you downsize before you hit the road?

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Risky Behavior

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I didn’t see many children during my brief career as a clerk in a supermarket fuel center. I suppose most of the youngsters who visited the gas station stayed in the car during the fueling process.

Once I did see a tween boy remove the nozzle from the pump and place it in the family car. He held the nozzle in place during the pumping process. Technically no one too young to legally drive was supposed to pump gas, but I didn’t run out of the kiosk to stop the boy. He wasn’t horsing around, and an adult woman was right there with him to help if anything went wrong. I figured the boy was probably as bright as the least savvy customers I’d encountered in that fuel center.

Occasionally adults sent children up to the kiosk to pay for fuel or buy snacks. Usually it was obvious the adult had not coached the child before sending it up to complete the transaction. Kids typically didn’t know what pump they were putting money on or how to lift the lid on the drawer through which I accepted money and returned change. Of course, plenty of adults didn’t know those things either, so I cut the kids some slack. At least children had the excuses of their tender age and inexperience.

During the last Friday I worked at the fuel center, I witnessed a child in a situation I could barely believe, especially since the adult guardians enabled the surprising behavior.

I’d returned from the supermarket where I had pulled merchandise to restock what we’d recently sold at the fuel center. I was standing outside the kiosk, waiting for my coworker to open the door for me. Outside the kiosk, standing on the other side of the bulletproof glass from my coworker were two adult women and two kids. Neither woman looked more than 35 years old. The older kid was 12 or 13 and the little kid was probably 6. The little kid was bouncing around begging for something. I was only partially paying attention to the interaction between the little kid and the woman. I was mostly thinking about getting off work in a few minutes and going home to cook dinner. 

At some point, I realized the little kid was begging for a Bang® energy drink.

The Bang® energy drinks were in a tall (probably 3 feet high) round cooler decorated to look like a can of the beverage. The cooler was on wheels and was brought out of the kiosk and plugged in each morning. At night the cooler had to be unplugged and rolled back into the kiosk. We didn’t sell many of the drinks (Red Bull® and Monster® were probably the two most popular brands of energy drink we sold) and for some reason no variety of Bang® ever showed up on our replenishment list. I don’t know who kept the Bang® cooler stocked. No one told me anything about it, so I didn’t worry my pretty little head.

Occasionally I opened the Bang® cooler to return to the upright position any of the cans that had fallen on their sides during the daily taking out and bringing in. A can must have burst in the cooler at some time in the past because the walls and sides harbored sticky residue and an overpowering scent of (fake) cotton candy. I like sweets, but the intense aroma of artificial candy flavor nearly made me sick to my stomach.

According to the Bang® website,

BANG® is not your stereotypical high sugar, life-sucking soda masquerading as an energy drink! Power up with BANG’s potent brain & body-rocking fuel: Creatine, Caffeine, & BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids).

Under the “WARNINGS” section on the same website, I found this disclaimer:

Not recommended for use by children under 18 years of age.

Strange, the product’s own website says it’s not for children, but the list of available flavors include kid-appealing yummies like Birthday Cake Bash, Cotton Candy, Rainbow Unicorn, Sour Heads, and Root Beer. Sure, sure, adults can and do like those flavors too, but it seems a little strange to go with such sweetness while trying to appeal to a market that “consists principally of fitness enthusiasts” (according to Wikipedia.)

Also under the “WARNINGS” section of the Bang® website is the admission that

one serving [a 16 ounce can] of BANG provides 300mg of caffeine which is more than three cups of coffee.

For further comparison, 16 ounces of Red Bull has about 160mg of caffeine, a Starbucks Grande Caffe Americano contains 225mg of caffeine per 16 ounce cup, and 16 ounces of Mountain Dew contains about 73mg of caffeine.  Coke Classic offers only a paltry 45mg of caffeine per 16 ounce serving. I think we can all admit that consumers of Bang® get an awfully big caffeine bang for their buck.

So why shouldn’t kids enjoy a Bang® energy drink and its 300mg of caffeine? According to the February 2015 article “Why Energy Drinks and Your Children Don’t Mix” on the Cleveland Clinic website,

Energy drinks won’t only cause your young children to bounce off the walls—they may cause an irregular heartbeat, too.

The article goes on to say that a study presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) meeting showed that kids younger than 6 made up more than 40% of emergency calls related to energy drinks.

The effects the energy drinks had on the children included heart arrhythmia and seizures.

The AHA said this was

because many energy drinks contain pharmaceutical-grade caffeine in addition to caffeine from natural sources…These combined sources of caffeine may cause the heart to race and blood pressure to increase.

According to the article,

The American Academy of Pediatrics prefers children consume no caffeine at all.

While the possible health effects of high levels of caffeine on children are disturbing, that bouncing off the walls thing would be enough to keep me from giving an energy drink to a child. Most kids I’ve known have had plenty of energy without introducing 300mg (or even 100mg or 50mg) of caffeine into the equation. Apparently the woman the little kid was begging for a Bang® had no such concerns, because she agreed to buy him one!

I couldn’t even believe it! Does that seem like a good idea? I wanted to call out to her. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to me! I wanted to tell her. But who am I to tell someone what to feed her child? I am no one. I kept my mouth shut.

Once the woman agreed to buy the Bang® for the little kid, both women urged the older kid to get an energy drink too. The older kid picked a Monster with a more manageable 160mg of caffeine in the 16 ounce can.

My coworker rang up the two energy drinks and whatever else the group had decided to buy for their Friday night fun. Once he collected payment and gave them change, he opened the back door for me.

I wonder how that’s going to work out for her, he was muttering as he let me in. I knew he was talking about the woman who’d just provided a very large amount of a stimulant to a very small child.

I shrugged. Maybe this would be the night the woman learned that children and caffeine simply shouldn’t mix.

15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Cold

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Heart shaped cactus pad with snow along the top edge
Winter love from the desert

Winter is here and folks need to stay warm whether they’re living in a tent, a van or other vehicle, a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a poorly insulated conventional home. Last week I told you how a hot water bottle tucked under the covers can help keep you warm on a cold winter night. Today I’ll give you fifteen more tips for staying warm and comfy when the temperature drops.

Thanks to Laura-Marie of dangerous compassions blog for asking me to write about staying at a comfortable temperature.

#1 Wear enough clothes.When we were kids, if my sibling or I complained about being cold, our dad would immediately look us over to see how we were dressed. If we were wearing short pants or a short-sleeved t-shirt, he’d send us to put on appropriate clothes before he’d consider turning up the heat. (Dad was also fond of saying, What you gonna do when winter gets here? meaning it wasn’t even cold yet, so we shouldn’t be complaining. As a smartass teenager, I took to answering this question with one word: Freeze.)

Some mornings when The Man gets out of bed before I do, I hear him in the living room complaining about how cold he is. Often when I peer out of the bedroom, I see he’s wearing a sweatshirt (good job!) and shorts. Put some pants on, I mumble from my warm nest under the covers.

In any case, if you’re cold, follow my father’s directive and try putting on adequate clothing. Wearing a sweater or a jacket can really help keep you comfortable when it’s cold. And for goodness sake, if you’re chilly, be sure you’re wearing pants!

#2 Wear warm socks.When I moved to the Midwest from the Deep South, a friend who’d lived in Minneapolis for decades advised me to invest in warm socks. Good advice! Keeping your toes warm will definitely help keep you comfortable during a chilly day or night.

Styrofoam head mannequin wears a bright, handmade hat
My old friend Esmerelda knows wearing a hat will help keep your whole self warm.

#3 Wear a hat too.  You may have heard people say you lose 50% of your body heat through your head and wearing a hat keeps that heat in. The Live Science website reports

At most, according to a 2008 report in BMJ, a person loses 7 percent to 10 percent of their body heat through their head…

but I feel a lot warmer when I’m wearing a hat. Hat hair be damned! I wear a snug hat on cold days and on cold nights as well so I can conserve as much of my body heat as possible.

#4 Keep your ears warm. Cold ears are unhappy ears, as far as I’m concerned. Ears exposed to frigid winter air are also susceptible to frostbite, so I keep my ears covered. I like to keep my ears warm even when I’m sleeping. If my ears get cold while I’m asleep, I tend to bring my shoulders way up, as if I could bring them up high enough to shield my ears from the chilly air. Having my shoulders in this unnatural position at night can lead to a daytime ache between my shoulder blades. I like to wear a hat I can pull down over my ears, but you can achieve the same results by wearing earmuffs, ear pops, or a scarf wrapped around your head.

#5 Dress in layers. I hate hate hate dressing warmly enough for the outside weather only to go inside (a store, the library, the laundromat) and find the heater is turned up too high for my comfort. Dressing in layers is the best way to deal with the difference between the outside and inside temps. Simply putting a t-shirt or tank top under your sweater means you can peel off a layer without exposing a socially unacceptable amount of skin.

#6 Throw a blanket over your lap when you’re sitting around during the day. A lap blanket can help hold in your body heat and keep you cozy whether you’re reading, talking on your phone, or doing crossword puzzles. If you have access to electricity, consider using an electric blanket to keep you toasty warm while sitting still. According to the How Stuff Works article “How Much Does It Cost to Run an Electric Blanket?

An electric blanket might consume 200 watts (depending on the setting). So if you leave it on for 10 hours, it consumes 2 kilowatt-hours. That would cost between 15 and 30 cents, depending on your location.

Dog lying on its back is in the center of photo. On the right side a blanket is wrapped around a person's lower torso. A laptop is on the right side of the photo. The screen says "working on blog posts."
I was working on blog posts one cold day, and the whole family crawled into bed with me so we could share body heat.

#7 Share body heat. Whether it’s day or night, if you have an pet or human companion, consider cuddling to maximize body heat. Invite your cat or dog to sit on your lap or your best friend or sweetheart to sit close and share a blanket with you. Personally, if I’m under a down comforter with The Man and the dog, I usually get too hot and have to throw the covers off so I can cool down.

#8 If you feel cold, eat or drink something hot to warm you up from the inside out. Drinking hot cocoa, coffee, or hot tea should warm you right up. If you are avoiding calories, sugar, or caffeine but still crave flavor, drink herbal tea or add a slice or lemon or lime to hot water. If you make a big batch of your hot beverage of choice, you can store it in an insulated bottle for sipping throughout the day or night.

Do I even have to mention the warming benefits of hot soup? You already know the benefits of hot soup, right? Actually, any hot food should help you feel warmer, but there is something special about hot soup on a cold day.

#9 Get active. If the weather outside is frightful, you might be tempted to sit around indoors all day. If you’re cold even inside, try moving around a bit if possible. Do some stretches. Jog in place or do jumping jacks if you have room. Maybe you can even bundle up and brave the elements for some outdoor activities. When I lived in the Midwest, I sometimes went out walking in 16 degree weather so I could experience a change of scenery and get some exercise. After a brisk walk, my blood was pumping and I was warm, and as an added bonus, the indoors felt toastier when I came in from the cold.

#10 Hang out somewhere warm. If it’s too cold where you live, spend a few hours at a library, coffee shop, movie theater, or even the mall. For a few bucks (or maybe no cost at all), you can take advantage of the warmth already being cranked out by someone else’s heater.

Saguaro cactus with many arms stands in front of jagged mountains
The warmth of the desert beckons you.

If you’re living nomadically and you can swing it, go to a warmer climate. Both the Sonoran and Chijuajuan deserts tend to stay warm in the winter. If you want to be even warmer, stay in Mexico until spring. (For tips on living in the desert, read my post “10 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Desert.”)

#12 When you go to bed at night, cover yourself with good blankets. Down blankets are super warm. I haven’t been cold at night since I scored a down comforter at a Goodwill Clearance Center. If you don’t have a down comforter (or don’t believe it’s right to use animal products), consider sleeping inside a sleeping bag. I spent quite possibly the coldest night of my vanlife on public land outside of Mt. Shasta, CA. I’d spread my sleeping bad out like a blanket, and thought I was going to freeze to death. (I didn’t really think I was in danger of death, but dang. I was uncomfortable that night.) The next evening I zipped the bag on all three sides, crawled inside, and spent a warm and comfortable night in the same spot. Sleeping in the cocoon of the sleeping bag keeps you inside a bubble of your own nice, warm body heat. 

Person seen in bed from the waist down wearing leggings and socks.
That’s me wearing leggings and a thermal shirt to bed because nighttime temperatures on the mountain were dropping.

#13 Sleep with clothes on. It’s a persistent myth among some overnight outdoor enthusiasts that sleeping nude within a sleeping bag will keep a person warmer than sleeping in the bag while wearing clothes. However, this myth was busted by several hiking and backpacking websites. The Columbia blog , Section Hiker, Backpacker and Outside all say wearing clothes to bed is a good idea. As the Columbia article “Is Sleeping Naked Really Warmer?” explains,

[t]he more layers of air you can create around your body, the warmer you’ll be. So wearing clothes inside of your sleeping bag will help you stay warm.

#11 Change your clothes before bed. When you’re all snuggly warm in the garments you’ve worn all day, changing clothes may not seem appealing, especially if your living space is cold. However, even if it’s imperceivable to you, the clothes you’ve been wearing are a little damp from your sweat. The dampness of your clothes is going to make you cold while you’re sleeping, so put on clothes that are warm and dry. At the very least, change your socks.

The Section Hiker article “Is It Warmer to Sleep Naked in a Sleeping Bag?” lists some times when wearing clothes in a sleeping bag will not keep a person warmer. One such time is when

[y]ou wear wet clothing which compromises the insulation in your sleeping bag as the heat of your body dries it. The moisture in your clothes doesn’t just disappear: it gets trapped by the sleeping bag’s insulation which degrades its effectiveness…

The best practice is to wear a dry base layer (top, bottom, socks, and hat) in your sleeping bag at night…to keep you warmer in cooler weather. These should be loose-fitting to prevent your hands or feet from getting cold due to loss of circulation and to help trap warmer air near the surface of your skin.

Bear box and evergreen trees are dusted with snow. Ground is covered with snow.

#14 Pee if you have to pee. We all know it’s a pain to leave a warm spot (in bed or on the couch) to go to the restroom, especially if the restroom is cold and we have to remove a significant portion of our clothing to do what has to be done. It’s even worse if we have to move in the dark and/or go outside to get to where we need to go to relieve ourselves.

I once read in a guide to winter camping (something like the Backpacker website’s article “15 Cold-Weather Camping Tips to Keep You Warm While You Sleep“) that people tend to feel colder if they try to hold their urine instead of leaving the tent (or bed) in order to pee. It would be a bad deal if the urine in your bladder froze because your body was working to keep the rest of you warm. To avoid such a situation, your body works hard (and burns calories) to keep the urine inside of you warm. Get rid of the urine, and your body can use its resources to keep the rest of your comfortable.

#15 Keep your kidneys warm. A friend once told me about keeping my kidneys warm to keep the rest of me warm when we were camping out. She maintained that if one’s kidneys get cold, all the blood passing through the kidneys gets cold too. When the cold blood flows through the body, it makes the entire body cold. Her solution was to wrap something warm (a blanket or a scarf, perhaps) around the area of her kidneys. (While researching this post, I found out a product–the Haramaki–exists especially for this purpose). My friend also recommended using a sleeping pad under a sleeping bag for added warmth. I think this tip would be especially important for people sleeping on the cold ground or the cold floor of a van.

Roof of green yurt and path to door covered in snow

So there you go—15 tips for staying comfortable when the weather is cold. What do you do to stay warm in the winter? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

If you’re interested in winter camping, read Danny Smith’s guest post “A Guide to Winter Camping: Stay Warm, Have Fun” first published on February 2019. You can also read my post “Staying Warm” which was written during my first days as a camp host in the mountains.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only you are responsible for your safety and well-being. If you are in a dangerously cold situation, move to a warmer location. Ask for help if you need to. Frostbite and hypothermia are no jokes, friends.

I took the photos in this post.

In Praise of Hot Water Bottles and Sleeping Alone

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The beginning of winter is upon us. To help you prepare for cold weather sleeping, especially if you sleep alone in a van, car, or poorly insulated RV, here’s my story about how an improvised hot water bottle saved my cold butt.

You grow up with movies, books, television shows, and advertisements

Two People Laying on a Bed Covered With a Floral Comforter

telling you that when you find a romantic/sexual/love partner you’re going to sleep in the same bed. You learn the cuddling and snuggling (not to mention the s-e-x) will be amazing, and it is, until one of you (me) starts snoring and the other person (a light sleeper) can’t get any rest.

The Man tried using earplugs, and they helped for a while, but my snores apparently penetrated the orange spongy foam and hit his eardrums. I tired Breathe Right nasal strips (and their inferior competitor Clear Passage nasal strips) to stop my snoring. Again, they helped only for a while.

His tossing and turning while trying to get back to sleep woke me up, and if that wasn’t enough to disturb my sleep, him saying Honey? Honey! and asking me to roll over onto my left side certainly was.

Sleep deprivation brings out a demon in me. Lack of sleep makes me not just grumpy but downright angry. I think The Man harbors the same type of demon. We both knew it wasn’t my fault I was snoring, but he seemed to take it very personally. I knew he was only waking me and asking me to roll over out of self-preservation, but still I was furious at him for interrupting my sleep.

I went off to house sit for two weeks, and each of us got a fortnight of blissful sleep uninterrupted by snores, tossing, turning, the middle of the night bathroom needs of another person, or calls for dream analysis in the wee hours. We were both well rested and no longer angry at each other, so we tried sleeping together again.

We didn’t even have one happy night together. My first night home, I passed out and started snoring  before he even drifted off. He woke me up several times in the night asking me to roll onto my left side, which I did. I’m a natural back sleeper, so I always returned to my back (and my snores) as soon as I reached a deep level of sleep. At 4am, The Man clicked on the light and exclaimed that our sleeping arrangement wasn’t working for him. It wasn’t working for me either. Our sleeping demons were back.

During my childhood my maternal grandparents slept in twin beds across the room from each other. This arrangement always confused me. Every other married couple I knew—my parents, my aunts and uncles, the people on TV—shared a bed. Didn’t my grandparents love each other? I realize now that it’s possible to like and love someone and not want to spend 8 hours out of each 24 in bed next to that person. (I also realize that the sleeping arrangement of my grandparents may have come from the desire to be good Catholics while feeling like their seven children were all the mouths they wanted to feed and butts they wanted to diaper).

Because The Man and I didn’t have the luxury of space enough for separate beds (much less the separate rooms it would really require for him to get away from my snores), I offered to sleep in my van. He protested, but it was really the easiest solution. There was already a bed in my van, but his camp cot had been folded and taken out of his minivan. My van was a mess, and it was easier for me to clear a small space on the bed for my short self rather than clean up the whole space so he could be comfortable. Also, The Man likes to wake up early, make coffee, and meditate. I sleep late and don’t move around before sunrise, so it made more sense for The Man to stay in the fifth wheel (where we were living at the time) where he could stand up and use the stove. I had no doubt I would be totally fine in my van. After all, I’d slept in my van before, and I knew someday I’d sleep in it again. Apparently, the sleeping in it again day had come sooner than I had expected.   

Selective Focus of Frozen Tree Twigs

Unfortunately, my return to the van coincided with an epic cold snap. Down in the southern Sonoran Desert where we were staying that winter, temperatures seldom drop below freezing. However, the first few nights I slept in my van, temperatures went down to the high 20s. Brrr!

I had plenty of warm clothes. I put on Cuddl Duds leggings, then pulled on flannel pajama pants. On top I wore a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and the matching flannel pajama shirt. I put warm socks on my feet and a warm hat on my head. I was suited up for winter.

My bed was suited up for winter too. I have a down comforter that I scored for a great price at a Goodwill Clearance Center in Phoenix. (Whoever brought it to the desert learned they didn’t need it.) This comforter often keeps me too warm if the temperature is over 45 degrees, so I knew it would keep me toasty on a freezing night. The only thing I worried about were the long minutes after I slipped into bed and before my body heat warmed up my surroundings. The mattress was going to be cold. The sheets were going to be cold. The comforter was going to be cold.

I harkened back to my days living in the Midwest. I’d seen snow there and temperatures as low as -16 degrees. I lived in a series of poorly insulated homes, and in attempt to save money, never set the thermostat higher than 68 degrees. Nights were cold, even when I dressed warmly and slept under a pile of blankets. To stay warm, especially when I first crawled into my cold bed, I’d take a hot water bottle under the covers with me.

Back in the Midwest, I used a hot water bottle I’d gotten in perfect condition

Silver Kettle over Burner

at a thrift store. I’d bring a pot of water to almost boiling (measured with a candy thermometer which must have come from a thrift store too), then carefully pour the hot water into the red container. I’d slip the hot water bottle into the polar fleece (acquired at the thrift store, of course) cozy I’d hand sewn for it and slide it into my bed to warm things up while I brushed my teeth and washed my face.

In my fifth wheel in the desert, I had no hot water bottle, no candy thermometer, no polar fleece cozy, but I knew a bottle of hot water would make the beginning of each night much more comfortable. I looked around for what I could use. Because of a lid that can be screwed down tight and the thick plastic it’s made from, a Nalgene bottle would have worked great. Alas, all of my Nalgene bottles were in use holding ice in the cooler we used since we had no working refrigerator. I remembered I’d just thrown away an empty plastic bottle cooking oil had come in, so I fished it out of the trash and washed it while my water was heating.

The plastic the bottle was made from was fairly thin, and I didn’t want to melt it, so I only heated the water until it was quite hot to the touch. Then I poured it into the cooking oil bottle and carried it out to the van. I slipped the bottle full of hot water under my comforter, then went back inside to brush my teeth. When I returned to the van, my sleeping area was nice and warm. The water bottle stayed hot for hours and if any part of me (my feet, my butt) got cold, I just moved the bottle to the spot that needed some heat. I was awake using the internet on my phone for a couple of hours, and I was perfectly warm under my comforter with my makeshift hot water bottle next to me.

I slept great that night. If I snored, I never knew. The Man said he slept great too. He got out of bed when he was ready and didn’t have to worry about bothering me. In the nights that followed, we sometimes missed cuddling, but not as much as we would have missed a night of good sleep.

I recommend a hot water bottle for anyone sleeping in a cold climate, whether you sleep in a van, a house, an apartment, or an old RV. Use a bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure the lid is tightly closed before throwing the bottle into your bed. Be careful that the water is not hot enough to melt the plastic of the bottle or burn your skin. If the bottle is too hot to touch, wrap it in a towel, shirt, or other random piece of cloth you have lying around. Depending on the size of your bottle, it may fit in an old (clean!) sock that’s missing its mate.

If you are living in your vehicle and are parking for the night at a truck stop, you can find hot (usually very hot) water with the coffee dispensers. If you don’t feel right about filling up your bottle with hot water without permission, ask the cashier if you can have some and offer to pay.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety. You are responsible for yourself! Hot water can be dangerous! Be careful!  Don’t melt your bottle. Don’t spill hot water on yourself. Don’t burn yourself on a hot bottle. Don’t flood your bed. Please, please, please use common sense.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-people-laying-on-a-bed-covered-with-a-floral-comforter-1246960/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-branch-close-up-cold-436792/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/antique-burn-burning-close-up-243053/.