Category Archives: Van Life

Vandweller Report: Working at a Christmas Tree Lot (Guest Post)

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This blog post was written before we knew about COVID-19 as a threat, before there was a global pandemic affecting us all. I’ve decided to share this post today in the hopes that it will be helpful to someone, but I don’t know if Christmas tree lots are open this year or if they are hiring. If you want to follow up on the information offered here, you will have to do your own research.

Aerin (the author of this post) and I are both in a vanlife Facebook group. When I heard Aerin was going to work at a Christmas tree lot during the 2019 holiday season, I asked if they would be interested in writing a report for my blog. I was excited when they said yes.

Working at a Christmas tree lot is one of those seasonal jobs I’ve heard are available to nomads but have been able to find precious little real information about. The information that is out there is from the perspective of RVing couples managing lots. I thought I’d do my readers a favor by sharing the insights of a vandweller who spent a couple of weeks before Christmas slinging trees.

Are you a fan of the holiday season? You know, that magical time of year when some traditions call for bringing the carcasses of dead evergreens into our homes to be the backdrop for our revelry. 

I’m talking about Christmas trees.

Photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

How Did I Hear About the Job?

Well, I was just an unsuspecting nomad looking for work at the beginning of December when I spotted the post in a workamping Facebook group. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes old and had one comment so far. Usually I don’t see these kinds of posts until much too late.

Labor in a Christmas tree lot? How hard could that be? 

Was Living In a Van Helpful to Get the Job?

Not really. I was looking to park onsite as part of my employment, so living in a small rig that is self-contained and doesn’t need hookups made that possible.

I could have parked elsewhere and driven in to work. There was no requirement to live onsite, aside from the managers, and the rest of the staff drove in. However, it was a selling point that I would be around in case things got unexpectedly busy and they needed someone to jump in right away. That didn’t actually happen, but it made the managers feel more secure since they were learning the ropes too, and it helped get me the job.

The person who had responded to the post before me had a large RV and was looking for something that offered hookups. This job was literally in a parking lot. One that was technically the property of the swim school next door, so space could be at a premium when both businesses were crowded. One extra vehicle of regular size was not going to crowd things.

The Job

The lot that hired me is affiliated with Valley View Christmas Trees. Valley View has lots all over the Phoenix metro area. Each lot is managed by a workamping couple who have the authority to hire staff.

From conversations with my managers, I learned that they get bonuses at the end of the season if they hit a certain threshold in total sales and keep labor costs below a certain percentage of sales. Otherwise, they are paid a flat salary, and at least one of them is expected to be working 9-9 every single day.

For me, I was labor staff. Pay was $11/hr gross. Not awesome, but it did come with several useful perks:

  • a parking spot for the duration of my time there
  • regular access to their port-o-pottie so I didn’t need to find another bathroom or use the one in my rig
  • unlimited water for drinking that I could have gotten straight from a hose and filtered myself (if I had a filter) but my managers were kind enough to let me use the faucet in their RV so it went through their filtration system
  • grocery store within walking distance

Each lot had the same five types of fir trees: Douglas, grand, Fraser, noble, and Nordmann. A big part of my job was knowing the difference and a little bit about each to assist customers. After a sale, I moved the tree to the back area and processed it for loading. This involved removing the stand, cutting a little off the bottom of the trunk so it would absorb more water once in the customer’s home, and trimming any branches as requested. Loading was either putting it in a truck bed or tying it to the roof of a car.

Tying a tree to the roof of a car is not fun. At all.

Aside from sales, my job also involved restocking. Trees that were delivered from Valley View (grown in Oregon) needed to get the bottoms drilled (for our center spike stands), stands pounded in, moved into place, twine wrap cut off, and bowls filled with water.

Most trees were in some partial state of readiness. For example, if things were slow, we might drill a bunch of trees in succession so it would be easier to restock later. Drilling takes a minimum of two people, sometimes three or more for larger trees, so getting that done all at once is more efficient.

The drill and drilled trees waiting to be put out. Photo provided by the author.

Drilling is also not fun. 

Trying to guess whether a tree is standing up straight is difficult. If the hole isn’t straight, it becomes super obvious once the tree is on a stand. Redrilling an unwrapped tree is even less fun.

My hours varied week to week depending on when the managers expected to be busy as we got closer to Christmas. Valley View does not pay overtime, so a strict cap of 40 hours also meant some creative shifting to make sure enough staff were working. The lot itself was open from 9am to 9pm every day. The managers were required to work all day every day for their salary.

The result of experimenting with painting trees. Photo provided by the author.

Towards the end of the season, one of the operations managers for Valley View came with a sprayer so we could try painting the trees. It was a mess. We did end up with a purple, blue, and white tree though. Believe it or not, the blue and white ones did sell.

The only thing I didn’t do was cashier because managers were the only ones allowed to run the register.

The Experience As a Vandweller

I liked it overall. Technically the job started towards the end of November, but I came in a bit later. I started on December 5 and the job ended December 24, so I was working or on call for 20 days. Also, my paychecks came on time, on approximately the 15th and 30th of the month.

Positives:

It is a lot of manual labor. That meant I was being paid to exercise. I am primarily a digital nomad, but it can be difficult to make time for physical fitness. I was sore a lot and developed bruises on my legs from the trees, but nothing serious.

The port-o-pottie was pumped out every week, so using it was not an issue. It never got to smelling bad. I was happy to not have to use my camp toilet or walk somewhere.

I was a paid employee of Valley View, meaning they took taxes out of my pay. This may not be a positive for everyone, but I prefer to have the money taken out now and worry less about paying it later. Also, my paychecks came on time. The first came by paper check to the lot because of a snafu, but this wasn’t an issue for me. The second check went through electronically.

Near the end of my time working at the Christmas tree lot, I found that the Crunch Fitness nearby has a drop-in rate of $5.08 (including taxes) so I got to work out and take a shower. I don’t have a shower in my rig, so this was nice.

It was cold, but never unbearable. However, I would not want to do this job any further north.

Negatives:

I was muddy and wet a lot of the time.

I had pine needles EVERYWHERE.

Photo provided by the author.

It is easiest to just wear the same outfits over and over again. I had two pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, and two vests that I cycled through so things had a chance to dry out before being worn again. I did laundry maybe twice the whole time I was there.

Since I wore my heavy work boots every day, I had a towel down as a kind of rug by the door so I could take them off and let them air out a little before the next day. They needed to air out for a full 24 hours once I was finished.

I didn’t feel comfortable setting up an outside area to cook, so I relied a lot on convenience food from the grocery store (which was a 5 min walk away). Not very healthy or frugal. 

All of the above are tough in a very small space. Everything gets everywhere. I was constantly sweeping dirt and pine needles out of the van. The walls were slowly coming in with dirty clothes draped to air out in the cab with the windows open, boots by the door, and trying to keep my bed relatively clean.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed myself. It was hard work, but I don’t mind that. I got paid to exercise, a free place to park, access to a great grocery store, and excellent managers. My hope is to work with the same couple again next season. A month of part- to full-time work with parking is a welcome thing at that time of year. The positives more than outweighed the negatives and the mehs.

I enjoyed the challenge of a new job, learning about the trees, and meeting some wonderful people. Being a vandweller was both a help and an inconvenience for a job like this, but I found ways to make it work. I learned a lot about how I use the space and made some changes.

I would definitely do this job again. It isn’t for everyone, but definitely worth investigating.

Aerin is a vandwelling nomad who has big dreams and is using a combination of frugality, zero waste, healthy living, alternative sources of income, and whatever else comes along to help achieve them. Aerin also makes masks, modular utility belts, and more at Hermit Crab Creations .


Southern Colorado Lake

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On trips to Colorado, I’ve seen a lake on Highway 159 between Costilla, NM and San Luis, CO. There are no signs at the entrances on Highway 159 naming the lake, but from my research on Google Maps, it appears to be Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir. The area around the reservoir is Sanchez Stabilization Park; it’s also a Colorado State Wildlife Area.

According to Wikipedia,

Sanchez Reservoir lies in far south-central Colorado, west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Costilla County. Its inflows include Ventero Creek and the Sanchez Canal, a diversion canal that takes water from Culebra Creek and two other creeks…The reservoir’s earthen dam was built in 1912.

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in March of 2020.

Brown signs labeled “Recreation Area” on either side of the highway are the only indication that the lake is on public land and not private property.

There are no signs about camping, nothing to say camping is either allowed or prohibited in the area. I’ve been of the mind that if there’s no sign explicitly prohibiting camping or overnight parking, then it must be allowed. (I find this way of thinking particularly acceptable in the U. S. Southwest. Results may vary in other areas.)

I took this photo of Sanchez Stabilizing Reservoir in the spring of 2017, probably in May.

According to the Colorado Birding Trail website, I was right about camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park. That website says primitive camping is allowed in the Park.

I’ve seen people seemingly camping at Sanchez Stabilization Park in truck campers and small-to-medium pull-behind campers. I’ve typically seen the area more crowded in the summer, but have noticed campers there in all seasons.

The aforementioned birding website also says,

Sanchez Reservoir is among the largest in the San Luis Valley, as well as among the most productive. The southern end can be frustrating to scan; most of the birds are usually on the north end.

The folks at the Colorado Birding Trail say the Reservoir is owned by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and is open all year. The recreation area does not provide accommodations to folks with disabilities, but for birders, some viewing is possible from one’s vehicle.

According to Uncover Colorado

Colorado has 350 State Wildlife Areas, covering more than 684,000 acres. With a valid fishing or hunting license you can access the properties for recreation, including hunting, fishing, hiking and wildlife observation.

I take that to mean that in order to camp at Sanchez Stabilization Park, you need a valid Colorado fishing or hunting license. However, I’ve never seen any notice of such a requirement on site.

According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Website, a Colorado annual fishing license for a nonresident over the age of 16 costs $97.97. A one-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident older than 16 runs $16.94, while a five-day Colorado fishing license for a nonresident over 16 costs $32.14. If you’re a Colorado resident over the age of 16, an annual fishing license costs $35.17. A one-day fishing license for Colorado residents over 16 costs $13.90. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can purchase a fishing license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location. You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can buy a fishing license online​.

If you’d rather pay for a hunting license, a nonresident small game one-day license costs $16.75 and an annual nonresident small game license will set you back $82.78. For Colorado residents, a small game one-day license costs $13.90 and an annual small game license runs $30.11. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says you can buy a hunting license in person at hundreds of retailers​ or at a CPW location.  You can buy a license by phone by calling toll free 1-800-244-5613​​, or you can ​​​buy a license online​.

As I was researching this post, I found some references to a Wildlife or Habitat Stamp. At first it seemed that a camper only needed a Wildlife/Habitat Stamp in order to spend time in a Colorado State Wildlife Area such as Sanchez Stabilization Park. However, in a May 5, 2020 Hiking Bob column by Bob Falcone in the Colorado Springs Indy, I learned

…in an effort to make sure everyone pays equally to use SWAs, CPW will be requiring all users to purchase a hunting or fishing license, effective July 1 [2020].

Hiking Bob goes on to say

The least expensive option for Colorado residents would be to purchase a single day fishing license, for $13.90 per day, and the required Habitat Stamp for $10.13 per year. A yearly fishing license can be purchased for $35.17, however senior citizens (over age 65) can get the annual license for $9.85 and are also exempt from the Habitat Stamp requirement.

There are two entrances to Sanchez Stabilization Park from Highway 159. You can take each entrance to several parts of the recreation area. The dirt road leads to the pit toilet restroom at the front of the area, to the tree-lined dirt road where the picnic tables sit in the middle of the recreation area, or to a series of dirt roads that go around the lake.

Pit toilet restroom at Sanchez Stabilization Park near Highway 159. The entrance to the toilet is on the other side.

When I’ve looked in at the pit toilet restroom on a couple of occasions, I’ve always found it fairly clean. Someone is sweeping out the building housing the toilet. There’s usually graffiti on the walls, which is typical in a building that’s probably not attended daily. I must admit, I’ve never lifted the toilet’s lid to find out if anyone is scrubbing down the risers or wiping the seat and lid. While I have seen toilet paper in the restroom, I suggest travelers stay prepared by carrying their own stash of TP.

If the toilet ever gets a thorough scrubbing, whoever does the cleaning must truck in water or haul some from the lake, because there’s no faucet or spigot on site. Again, I suggest preparation if you plan to spend time Sanchez Stabilization Park. Plan to carry in your own water for drinking and washing. I don’t know what might be running off into the lake water, so I don’t know if it’s suitable for washing dishes or the human body. I certainly would not drink it.

While there are no signs saying not to eat fish caught in the Reservoir, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife webpage about Sanchez Reservoir SWA says

Anglers should take note of [the] warning issued by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment regarding mercury levels in fish caught in this reservoir.

Another view of Sanchez Reservoir State Wildlife Area. Photo taken March 18, 2020.

(When I clicked on the link in the above quote on the website, I was taken to an empty link, so I don’t know exactly what the warning says. You can get more information about the Health Department warning in particular or Sanchez Reservoir in general by calling the area Colorado Parks and Wildlife office in Monte Vista at (719) 587-6900.)

These picnic tables at Sanchez Stabilization Park are built to last and resist theft. The benches don’t look comfortable, however.

There are about a half dozen picnic tables in the part of the recreation area between the restroom and the lake. There are stone fire rings near some of the picnic tables,and I’ve never seen signs prohibiting campfires. If you decide to build a fire in this recreation area (or anywhere!), make sure there is no fire ban in effect and please follow Smokey Bear’s Campfire Safety Rules.

There is a line of trees between the picnic tables and the dirt road running behind the picnic area. The trees provide a little shade. Whenever I’ve stopped at Sanchez SWA, I’ve always parked near one of the trees and escaped the sun.

I have seen people camped on the beach next to the lake. After reviewing my photos of the lake, I see that the only trees in the area are the ones near the picnic tables. People camping on the beach don’t have the benefit of the shade trees provide. I bet it gets hot out on that beach in the summer.

This photo was taken from the opposite side of Sanchez Reservoir and shows the line of trees near the picnic tables. I believe this photos was taken in September 2019.

I’m not sure how soft or wet or loose the sand on the beach is. I would be very careful about driving a car on the sand, much less a motorhome. If I were going to pull a rig onto the sand, I would be careful about that too. Before I drove my rig out there, I would walk over the area that sparked my interest and survey the conditions in order to determine if my rig could handle the terrain.

I usually park in the shade of these trees.

Since I haven’t spent a lot of time at Sanchez Stabilization Park and haven’t spent the night there, I’m not sure if bugs are bad out there. They may be worse in the summer (as bugs tend to be). Again, I suggest visitors arrive prepared to keep bugs away.

The lack of signs also mean there’s no indication of how long one is allowed to stay at the reservoir. I looked online, but could find no rules on camping limits at State Wildlife Areas. The upper limit of staying on public land is usually 14 days, so I wouldn’t plan to stay for more than two weeks at Sanchez Stabilization Park.

I don’t know if I would buy a fishing license and Habitat Stamp for the sole purpose of camping at this reservoir. If I liked to fish and didn’t mind throwing back what I caught, it might be nice to spend a week or two here fishing a little and enjoying the peace and quiet.

There’s another way to access Sanchez Reservoir. The Colorado Birding Trail website gives the following directions:

From the intersection of CO 159 and CO 142 in San Luis, head east on the continuation of CO 142 (CR P.6) about three miles to CR 21 and turn right (south). From here it is about five miles south to the SWA.

I took all the photos in this post.

Physical Distancing Is Still Important

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Are you still practicing physical distancing? Although many states are beginning to “open up,” physical distancing is still important to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the New York Times, the Trump

administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths over the next several weeks. The daily death toll will reach about 3,000 on June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times, a 70 percent increase from the current number of about 1,750.

The projections, based on government modeling pulled together by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forecast about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 cases a day currently.

The numbers underscore a sobering reality: The United States has been hunkered down for the past seven weeks to try slowing the spread of the virus, but reopening the economy will make matters worse.

So yeah, it looks to me like things may go from bad to worse in the next few weeks unless folks continue to practice physical distancing.

You may wonder what exactly “physical distancing” (also know as “social distancing”) means. According to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health,

Photo by James Lee on Unsplash

Physical distancing means staying home, avoiding crowds and staying at least 6 feet away from others whenever possible…

The less time that we spend within 6 feet of each other, and the fewer people we interact with, the more likely we are to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The aforementioned website gives the following advice for practicing physical distancing:

* Avoid any places where a lot of people are together such as gatherings, parties, worship services, and crowded parks.

* Work or study from home, if possible.

* Do not have visitors over or let your children have playdates.

* Avoid health care settings – unless you need services.

* Cancel non-essential health care appointments.

* Avoid non-essential travel.

* Avoid public transport, if you can.

* Avoid close contact with people – instead of shaking hands, come up with other ways to greet people that don’t involve any touching.

I know some of these recommendations are difficult for nomads to follow, especially working from home if we typically pick up odd jobs, seasonal jobs, or house and pet sitting jobs. Avoiding non-essential travel is difficult for us too, as non-essential travel is what we live for!

According to the CNN report “This Is Where All 50 States Stand on Reopening” by Alaa Elassar,

Stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders around country are being lifted in some states.

However, please don’t take this as an indication that it is safe to go out in public and carry on with life as it once was. As Colorado governor Jared Polis warned people during a press conference the day the state’s “safer at home” order was modified (as reported on the aforementioned CNN webpage),

It’s not going to be life as normal.

Many states that are opening up still require nonfamily members to stay at least 6 feet apart. In many places, retail establishments must limit the number of people inside. Please, if you are going back out into the world, follow these requirements, and be cheerful with the employees who have to enforce these regulations.

If you are in a group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, please consider staying home (whether your home is a sticks-n-bricks, a van, an RV, or some other rig) even if the state you are in lifts its stay-at-home or safer at home order. You are safer at home, even if the state doesn’t mandate that you stay there.

(If you’re wondering what groups are more vulnerable to COVID-19, William Kimbrough on the One Medical website lists the following groups as most susceptible to SARS-CoV-2:

* People aged 60 and older

*People with weakened immune systems due to chronic illness or medications, including people with autoimmune disease or transplants who are taking immunosuppressive drugs, people with AIDS

*People with serious long-term health conditions including diabetes, heart disease and lung disease such as emphysema and moderate asthma)

If you do decide to practice social distancing by staying away from people, what can you do to keep yourself entertained? Isolation is getting more difficult to deal with as we spend more time in one place, get less stimulation, and miss our friends and family. Here are a ten activities you can do alone to stimulate your mind and body and ward off cabin fever until it really is safe to be out in public again.

#1 Write a letter or a postcard. May 3-9 is National Postcard Month, so it’s the perfect time to write a card to a friend or other loved one. If you have more to say, go ahead and write a letter.

#2 Communicate by phone. If you don’t like to write, communicate with your friends and family by phone. You can call, text, or send photos on most mobile phones available today. Use video calls to take your communications up a notch; get recommendations from Dan Grabham‘s article “Best Free Video Calling Apps 2020: Keep in Touch with Friends or Colleagues” on the Pocket-lint website. Marco Polo lets you make videos and send them to the people you want to be in touch with, but you don’t have to engage in a live conversation.

#3 Learn something new or enhance your skills. In April I shared a huge list of “Free Things to Do While You Are Hunkered Down.” From learning a new language to learning to play guitar, this list is sure to give you some ideas of activities you can engage in to keep your mind sharp even if you you’re sitting home alone.

#4 Read up on life on the road. I put together “A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives.” It’s a good place to find links to past articles that tell you everything I know about life on the road. You can also see what other people know about life on the road by reading their blogs. I give you some suggestions about blogs to read in my post “10 Blogs by Vandwellers, Nomads, Vagabonds, RVers, Travelers, and Drifters.”

#5 Keep a journal. You might feel as if nothing is happening in your life right now, but you might be fascinated to remember your thoughts and activities during this time of global pandemic one, five, ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road. Also, the Positive Psychology article “83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress” by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc. says,

Journaling can be effective for many different reasons and help you reach a wide range of goals. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness!

Certainly we could all use those benefits in these trying times!

#6 Practice gratitude. According to the Psychology Today article “Gratitude in a Time of Pandemic” by Zachary Alti LCSW,

Gratitude practice is not only important for making you feel better psychologically during this crisis, it can also help your physical health in response to respiratory infection and in general (especially in older adults who are in a higher risk category for COVID-19).

Whether you write down the things for which you are thankful in a special gratitude journal, jot down gratitudes on your calendar, note everything you appreciate in your regular journal, or simply count your blessings in the morning or at night, being thankful will make it easier to get through these difficult times.

#7 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.

If you’re not sure how to start your medication practice, see the extensive list from The Awake Network, “Free Online Meditation Resources for Times of Social Distancing / COVID-19.” Many of these teachings, practices, and other resources are being shared at no cost.

#8 Practice yoga, which is beneficial to both the body and mind. The Thrive Global article “Yoga Poses for Stress Relief During COVID-19” by Lindsay McClelland says,

As COVID-19 continues to spread we’ve all experienced change and stress in our lives…there are things we CAN do when confined to our homes, and luckily yoga is one of those things. In addition to being a form of exercise that doesn’t take up much space or equipment, there are specific poses that can help reduce stress in the mind and the body.

If you find videos more helpful to learn how to move your body, try Daily Yoga Practice for Stay at Home Covid-19 Quarantine | Yoga with Melissa on YouTube.

#9 Spend some time in the sunshine. Even if you practice yoga or do other exercise inside your house, it’s important to get outside and get some sunshine too. In the article “Get Sunshine and Fresh Air While Sheltering in Place” on The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center website, author Whitney Christian, MD points out

Direct sunlight is our bodies’ main source of Vitamin D, which has been known to help fight off osteoporosis, cancer and depression. Even just a few minutes of sun exposure each day can help increase your levels of Vitamin D…Taking advantage of sunlight can help ease muscle aches and cramps, strengthen our bones and improve our moods…Spending time in the sun also can help you recover faster from an illness or injury. Studies show that those exposed to more natural light have quicker recoveries and experience less pain than those exposed to artificial light.

#10 Take a hike. If you can safely go outside, seize the opportunity. In the American Hiking Society article “Hiking Responsibly: Frequently Asked Questions for Hiking During the Covid-19 Pandemic” explains,

spending some time outdoors every day (we recommend at least 10 minutes) is an excellent way to take care of your mental and physical health always, especially now. 

If you live in a rural area, you might have abundant access to open space and trails. In that case, if the park or trail you want to use is open, not crowded, and within a quick drive of your home (so that you don’t have to stop for gas, restroom breaks, supplies, etc.), then, yes, visiting such places for a day hike is fine as long as you practice strict social distancing and are following the guidelines of your local government and the federal, state, or local land manager. However, right now, we can’t risk diverting emergency medical care to wilderness injuries, so we urge that you only take an easy day hike in the front country.

Avoid parks or trails that have become crowded, even if the area is officially open.  If the parking lot is crowded, there are already too many people there. Turn around and find another location or go home.  Not only does crowding make it impossible to follow social distancing, but it puts extra wear and tear on trails and other park infrastructure at a time when volunteer crews cannot be operating. 

I hope these suggestion help you continue to practice physical distancing as long as it may be necessary for you. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Stay home until the danger has passed.

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Up On the Roof

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I’d seen the van around town several times before. It was difficult to miss. It was a blue Chevy G20 conversion van with black plastic covering one of the back windows. In addition to the creative window treatment, the van was absolutely loaded down with items strapped to the exterior. There were at least four spare tires attached to various points on the van. What appeared to be a microwave oven sat atop two of the spares on a platform linked to the front bumper. A yellow generator was somehow held on the roof, and ratchet tie downs kept a water tank that looked like it could hold at least 100 gallons up there too. I hoped the water container was empty because 800 pounds traveling on the roof of a G20 seemed like a disaster waiting to happen to me.

I will confess, I’ve driven overloaded vans. The inside of my last Chevy G20 was packed to the gills on several occasions, but the only thing strapped to the outside was a 5-gallon gas can. I’m sure we each think our own material possessions are of the utmost importance, but why in the world was someone driving around with four spare tires, a 100 gallon water tank, and a microwave oven (!) strapped to the outside of a van? Certainly the water tank on the roof made driving in the wind more difficult and the extra weight of all the extra things decreased gas mileage.

One day while I was working at the supermarket fuel center, the overloaded van pulled up to pump 4. The driver–a man in his 60s with a white comb over–came up to the kiosk to pay cash for his fuel. He was soft-spoken and polite.

Several minutes after the van driver paid for his fuel, I left the kiosk to do my hourly conditioning of the merchandise for sale. I heard a soft voice calling Ma’am? Ma’am? Was someone talking to me? Where was the voice coming from?

Ma’am? Ma’am? I heard again.

I looked over to the blue van. The voice seemed to be coming from that direction, but I didn’t see anyone who might have been talking to me. No one looked at me expectantly or waved to get my attention. Was I hearing things? The job had me stressed out, but if it was causing auditory hallucinations, I was in big trouble.

Ma’am? Ma’am?

I looked up. That’s where the voice was coming from. A voice from on high was calling for me.

The man with the white comb over was on the roof of his van, crouched next to the generator. He’d stretched the gasoline hose from pump 4 up to the roof where he was pumping fuel into the generator. The whole setup seemed dangerous to me.

I need another $5, the comb-over man said to me while waving a $5 bill in my direction. I guess he’d misjudged how much fuel it would take to fill all his tanks.

I’m not supposed to take money outside of the kiosk, I told him. No one in authority had explicitly told me not to accept money outside of the kiosk, but it was a policy I’d set for myself. I figured only accepting money through the drawer would help keep every transaction on the up and up.

Please? the man on the roof of his van asked. I don’t want to have to climb down.

He sounded so pitiful, and I certainly wanted to minimize his chances of falling. An extra climb down followed by an additional climb up would increase the chances of a catastrophe I neither wanted to witness nor clean up after. I reached up and took his five dollars.

As I entered the kiosk, I realized the white-haired man was going to have to hang up the nozzle before I could authorize the pump to give him his additional $5 worth of fuel. He must have gotten the attention of a kindhearted stranger who hung up the nozzle for him because when I looked at my POS (point-of-sale) system, the screen showed pump 4 was available. I authorized the pump for $5 worth of fuel and put the money in the cash drawer. Then I stood back and watched the fellow on the top of the overloaded van pump the gas into his generator. I was pretty sure no fuel center spectacle could top this one.

At least the van owner was no longer part of this parade when he showed up at the fuel center.

I took the photos in this post.

A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives

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It’s a tough time to be a nomad because we’re all grounded right about now.

Where are you hunkered down during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If we’re not hunkered down at our home base, we may be staying with friends or family members. Some of us may be self-isolating in a still-open campground or while boondocking on public land. In any case, we’re not out and about as much, not able to see new things or visit new places.

Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast

If you want to be productive while you practicing social distancing, I’ve compiled this list of Rubber Tramp Artist blog posts of particular interest to nomads, vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, RVers, drifters, and travelers of all kinds. You can use these posts to learn about everything from safety on the road and how to prepare for disasters to how to deal when the weather is bad and how to train your canine companion for life on the road. Especially if you are just beginning your nomadic journey, these posts can help you prepare for a nomadic life.

So here we go. Browse this list to find posts you missed and posts you want to revisit so you’ll be ready when it’s time to get back on the road. (I’ll also include some photos from my travels for your viewing pleasure.)

Mountain, southern New Mexico

If you don’t understand what all the fuss is about with this coronovirus and COVID-19, check out the post Living Nomadically in the Time of COVID-19 for information about what the pandemic we are currently experiencing means to individuals and to all of us.

Red flowers, location unknown

Before you hit the road, familiarize yourself with the basics of living nomadically. From lingo to budgets and all the preparation in between, these posts will help you get ready to go.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

If you don’t already have a rig, these posts may help you choose the rig that’s right for you.

Lake Isabella, California

Many nomads are going to have to work, at least part time. These posts will offer you tips on getting a variety of jobs, from camp host to house sitter to human guinea pig.

Adobe at sunset, New Mexico

Staying safe is important to everyone, especially when driving a large, powerful rig or living alone. Check out these posts for tips on staying safe while living on the road.

Arizona beetle

Maintaining mental health is extremely important too. These posts will offer advice for staying mentally healthy while you travel.

Gate and Ute Mountain, New Mexico

Unfortunately sometimes disasters happen. Here are some precautions you can take to help you avoid disasters.

Pine tree on Dome Rock, California

It’s important to know what to take with you when you hit the road. Here are some of the things I recommend.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

It’s also important to know what to leave behind before you move into your rig and how to organize the things you decide to keep. These posts can help you purge and organize.

Waterfall, Oregon coast

When you’re living on the road, you’ll find yourself dealing with the impact of the weather. These posts will help you stay comfortable when the weather is less than pleasant.

Tule River, California

Need help staying busy and connected while traveling? These posts will help you find things to see and do while you’re on the road, as well as help you stay connected to other people.

Rocky Mountain high, Colorado

If you’re traveling with a companion animal (or more than one!) or if you’re considering getting one to join your nomadic life, these posts may be helpful

Goose on the water

If you’re traveling in a travel trailer, these posts might be of special interest of you.

Giant sequoia, California

So you want to go camping…Whether you’ll be sleeping in a tent or boondocking in your van, travel trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome these posts will help you have an enjoyable experience.

Mesa Arch, Canyolands National Park, Utah

Now that you know how to camp, I’ll tell you where to camp. These are campsites I’ve actually been to, most of which I have spent at least one night at. Many of these campsites are free.

Joshua Trees, California

If you want to learn from other nomads, check out these interviews, as well as the post all about blogs written by other vagabonds, nomads rubber tramps, and van dwellers.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation

I hope this post helps you pass the time and sends you on your way to so much good information. If you read all of the posts listed here, by the time you come out of self-isolation you will be totally ready to hit the road.

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.

I took the photos in this post.

15 Tips for Staying Comfortable in the Heat

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World's largest thermometer shows  temperature at 91 degrees.

Summer is coming and depending on where you are, you may already be dealing with the heat. It’s important to stay cool whether you’re living in a tent, a van or other vehicle, a motorhome, a travel trailer, or a conventional house. Today I’ll give you tips on staying comfortable as the mercury rises.

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

#1 Wear the right clothing. Unless you’re at a nudist colony, you may have to wear some clothing, but you can increase your comfort by wearing 100% cotton garments. Cotton is a breathable fabric that lets perspiration evaporate. I refuse to wear polyester in the summer because it makes me unnaturally hot and causes my armpits to smell really bad.

#2 Don’t get a sunburn. Trust me, you will not be comfortable if you have a sunburn. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF on exposed skin, or (my favorite) cover up with lightweight 100% cotton clothing. The Lady of the House swears by sun protection clothing by Coolibar. According to the comapany’s website,

Tested more than any other brand, endorsed by experts worldwide and recommended by dermatologists – Coolibar guarantees UPF 50+ protection in our fabrics from the first day our product is worn until the day your garment is retired.

#3 Wear a hat. A hat intended to keep the sun from beating on your head can go a long way to increase your comfort in the heat. Again, I like natural fibers. I also like a wide brim to help protect my face, but even a baseball or trucker cap will help protect your head.

#4 Stay in the shade. If you have to be outside when the sun is shining, stay in the shade of an awning, canopy, tree, or umbrella. When parking your rig, try to put it in a position for optimal shade.

#5 Be still. Like a desert animal, you want to remain inactive during the hottest part of the day. Exercise or do your most physically active chores in the morning or evening when the temperature is lower. During the hottest part of the day, read, write, listen to podcasts, or nap if you can. In other words, take it easy during the height of the heat.

Grey air-circulating fan

#6 Fan yourself. When you’re awake, you can use a handheld fan to make a breeze for yourself. At night use a fan run by batteries or electricity (depending on your situation) to move the air. Especially at night, I need airflow to survive the heat.

#7 Wet your clothes. If the humidity is not too high, wetting your clothes can be mighty refreshing. If I’m wearing a long sleeve cotton shirt, I’ve been known to take it off and dip it in a basin of water. If no basin is available, I’ll pour water directly over myself. As the water evaporates, cooling ensues, especially if a breeze hits.

#8 If you don’t want to wet your clothes, try the strategic application of a wet bandana. A wet bandana tied around or draped over the head can be very refreshing. Sometimes I’ll put a wet bandana under my hat. On hot nights, I’ve draped a wet bandana over my naked chest and been comfortable enough to drift off to sleep. A wet bandana draped over the back of the neck also feels good when it’s hot out.

There are products available for purchase (or you can make your own) that are supposed to help folks stay cool. Cooling towels and neck wraps are marketed to athletes and are supposed to stay cool for a long time after being dipped in water. Other items have little beads in them that absorb water and are reported to stay cool for hours. (These beads are properly called ” Super Absorbent Polymer water absorbing crystals.”) These products are well and good if you have money to buy them and space to store them. However, I’ve had success with the cooling properties of a wet bandana or even a washcloth.

Feet wearing hiking sandals in water
My feet in a cold mountain stream

#9 Soak your feet. If you have a kiddie pool or even a small basin, try soaking your feet in cool water. If you have ice, put some to your foot bath for added cooling pleasure. If I can get my feet wet (especially in a cold mountain stream), the rest of me cools off instantly.

#10 Wet your whole self. Try submerging yourself in a lake, river, swimming pool, or ocean. Take a cold shower or bath.

I once lived in Texas in a house with no air conditioning. Sometimes during the summer I’d wake up in the night totally hot. I’d make my way to the bathroom without turning on a light, get in the shower, and turn on only the cold water. The jolt of coolness left me comfortable enough to go back to sleep.

#11 Drink cold beverages.  Staying hydrated is so important when the weather is hot. In the summer, I keep my EcoVessel bottle filled with ice and water, and I carry it wherever I go. If you need a little flavor, add some lemon or lime to your cold water. You can also drink juice, iced coffee, and iced tea (herbal or with caffeine) but water is your best bet for battling dehydration.

#12 Go somewhere cool during the hottest part of the day. Hanging out in the air conditioned comfort of a library, coffee shop, movie theater, or even a mall can make even the hottest day pass pleasantly. For a few bucks (or maybe no cost at all), you can take advantage of the cool air already being cranked out by someone else’s air conditioner.

#13 Cook outside. When you cook inside, the heat from your stove warms your living space. If you have a portable propane stove, take it outside to cook your meals. You can also cook on a gas or charcoal grill. If cooking outside isn’t an option, cook early in the morning before the day heats up or late in the evening when the temperature has dropped.

#14 Don’t cook at all. Use some of the tips from my blog post “What to Eat When You Can’t (or Don’t Want to) Cook.” Eating chilled fresh fruit is cooling and will help you stay hydrated. Hummus and guacamole are light, easy to prepare, and can be eaten cold.

Winding mountain road
Follow a mountain road to a higher elevation.

#15 Change your location. If possible, go up in elevation or visit a beach or seashore.

The mountains are beautiful in the summer. For every 1,000 feet gain in elevation, the temperature drops approximately 3.5 degrees. That means if it’s 95 degrees at sea level, it will be a cool 78 degrees at 5,000 feet. (For more information about mountain life, see my post “Managing in the Mountains.”)

If the mountains aren’t right for you (or they’re too far away), go to the beach. It will be easy to cool off in the water, and the seashore tends to have a nice breeze. Even a few days in a cooler location can make the heat at home easier to bear.

So there you have it—fifteen tips for staying comfortable when the weather is hot. How do you stay cool in hot weather? Please leave your tips in the comments section below.

Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and wellbeing. Only you are responsible for your safety and wellbeing. If you are in a dangerously hot situation, please move to a cooler location Ask for help if you need to. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real and dangerous, my friends.

I took the photos in this post.

Living Nomadically in the Time of COVID-19

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Photo by Zane Līsmane on Unsplash

Unless you’ve been boondocking deep in the woods for the last month, you’ve probably heard about the coronavirus, Covid-19, social distancing, and the stockpiling of toilet paper. If you’re feeling a little confused about what this all means for you as a nomad, today I will try to help you sort out fact from fiction and truth from fake news.

What is the novel coronavirus everyone is talking about? What is COVID-19?

In the HuffPost article “Here’s the Difference Between Coronavirus And COVID-19,” author Lindsay Holmes explains that the term “coronavirus”

refers to a group of viruses that are known to cause respiratory issues. So even though many are referring to the illness circling around right now as “coronavirus,” that’s not actually the name of the disease…

COVID-19 is what experts are calling this particular disease.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

According to a Standford Health Care FAQ,

A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

The same FAQ says,

the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses…named the novel coronavirus, first identified in Wuhan, China, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, shortened to SARS-CoV-2.

As the name indicates, the virus is related to the SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) that caused an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003, however it is not the same virus.

Am I at risk for catching COVID-19?

According to the University of Chicago Medicine article “COVID-19: What We Know So Far about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus” by Emily Landon, MD, an infectious disease specialist and hospital epidemiologist, the short answer is yes.

Photo by twinsfisch on Unsplash

It doesn’t appear anyone is naturally immune to this particular virus, and there’s no reason to believe anybody has antibodies that would normally protect them.

Can my pet catch COVID-19 and transmit it to me?

According to the Healthline article “Don’t Fall for These 3 Myths About the New Coronavirus” written by Joni Sweet and fact-checked by Dana K. Cassell,

“You’re not going to get a dangerous human coronavirus from Fido,” said [Dr. Gregory] Poland [a virus expert and head of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic]. “It’s true that dogs, cats, and most species carry their own kinds of coronavirus, but those are not human pathogens.”

Can I get vaccinated against COVID-19? Is there a treatment for the disease?

The aforementioned Stanford Health Care FAQ says no.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Currently there is no vaccine or specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19. However, there are vaccines and drugs currently under investigation. The National Institutes of Health has estimated that a large clinical trial for a vaccine may be available in 12-15 months.

How do I protect myself from COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers the following measures to protect yourself from COVID-19:

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Having trouble avoiding touching your face? Check out the Healthline article “You Probably Touch Your Face 16 Times an Hour: Here’s How to Stop” by George Citroner and fact-checked by Michael Crescione.

What is social distancing?

In the humorous yet informative Forbes article “What Is Social Distancing? Here Are 10 Ways To Keep The Coronavirus Away” author Bruce Y. Lee explains

Social distancing is a public health strategy attempting to prevent or slow the spread of an infectious pathogen like a virus. It includes any method to keep people as physically separate from each other because physical proximity is how many pathogens go from one body to another. This includes isolating people who are infected, quarantining people who may have been infected, and keeping people separate from each other in general.

Who is at greatest risk for contracting COVID-19?

In The Guardian article “Coronavirus: Who’s Most at Risk, What We Can Do and Will We See a Vaccine Soon?” Dr. Tom Wingfield of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine says

heart disease, followed by diabetes, hypertension – high blood pressure – chronic lung disease and finally some cancers were the main risk factors [for contracting COVID-19).

The more of these conditions you have, the greater the likelihood of severe disease that you face.

In addition, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services states

Older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease and those with weakened immune systems seem to be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness.

Early data suggest older people [over 65 years of age] are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website lists the following symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

The website says the symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

The Healthline article “Everything You Should Know About the 2019 Coronavirus and COVID-19” (written by Tim Jewell and medically reviewed by Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP) elaborates that the cough gets more severe over time and the fever begins as low-grade and =gradually increases in temperature.

What should I do if I contract COVID-19?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The University of Chicago Medicine webpage “What Are the Symptoms of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?” by Allison H. Bartlett, MD, MS gives the following suggestions for folks who are experiencing mild-to-medium symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, muscle and body aches, cough, and a sore throat:

…stay at home, self-isolate and rest.

Monitor your temperature and drink plenty of fluids. Continue to wash your hands frequently, disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home and stay away from other people as much as possible.

The hospital and emergency room should be used only by people who are concerned about life-threatening symptoms… If you’re just a little bit sick, the best thing you can do is self-isolate and try to keep the virus from spreading to others.

What should I do if my COVID-19 symptoms get worse?

On the “What Are the Symptoms of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?” webpage mentioned above, the author says,

If your condition worsens after 5 days, reach out to your doctor — ideally through a remote way, such as calling or messaging— for advice.

Contact a doctor if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:

Shorness of breath

Trouble breathing

Chest pain

Wheezing

Constant or sever abdominal pain

Confusion

Unable to keep food or liquids down

If any of these symptoms are severe, you should go to an emergency room. If you are over 60 and have other chronic medical problems, consider contacting an emergency room for less-severe symptoms.

Thanks for all the great information, but what particular challenges do nomads face in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak?

Right now, healthy people are being told to self-isolate and stay home as much as possible to help flatten the curve and help slow down the rate of the epidemic. People experiencing mild-to-medium symptoms of COVID-19 are being told to stay at home and rest. What’s a nomad without a permanent home base to do?

I suggest you find a place to hunker down and sit still for a while.

Perhaps you can find a free camping spot in a national forest to spend 14 days away from the rest of civilization. Of course, you will have to weigh the pros of being away from people with the cons of being away from medical attention should you get sick with COVID-19 or some other illness. If you’re generally in good health, you may feel more comfortable taking the risk of going deep into the woods. Maybe you can find a free camping spot not terribly far from a hospital or urgent care clinic. Perhaps hunkering down with a partner, traveling buddy, or members of a small caravan would be a good idea so folks can take care of each other and someone healthy could drive a sick person into civilization if necessary.

This may be a good time to splurge on a campground near a town if you can afford such a luxury. Just remember, you’re at the campground to isolate, so stay out of common areas and away from group activities as much as possible. Campendium has posted a list called “COVID-19 State by State Campground Closures & Responses” to help you decide where to go and what places to avoid.

If you can’t afford to stay at a campground and can’t or don’t want to trek out to the woods, continue blacktop boondocking, but stay away from other people as much as possible. Many hangout spots like libraries, museums, and senior centers have been closed across the country, but you can still hang out in your rig in parks and parking lots. I’ve heard of a Panera that was open but had removed half of its seating so people weren’t forced to sit so close together Maybe you can find a coffee shop with a similar setup where you are. (For maximum stealth, spend your days in a parking lot different from the one you will sleep in at night.)

Another problem a nomad might face is hand washing. Hand washing is all over the news. UNICEF, in the article “Everything You Need to Know about Washing Your Hands to Protect against Coronavirus (COVID-19)” says,

In the context of COVID-19 prevention, you should make sure to wash your hands at the following times:

After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing

After visiting a public space, including public transportation, markets and places of worship

After touching surfaces outside of the home including money

Before, during and after caring for a sick person

Before and after eating

That’s a lot of scrubbing up! What are you supposed to do if live in a rig without running water and a sink?

When I was a vandweller, I kept hand wash water in a Nalgeene bottle or a empty Dr. Bronners soap bottle. I found both of these bottles easier to use and less wasteful than pouring from a gallon jug. I often washed my hands outside, either in my camping spot or in parking lots, and just let the excess water hit the ground.

Worried because you don’t have hot water to use for washing? The aforementioned UNICEF article says,

you can use any temperature of water to wash your hands. Cold water and warm water are equally effective at killing germs and viruses – as long as you use soap!

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

If you don’t have soap, UNICEF says you can use hand sanitizer.

…alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills the coronavirus, but it does not kill all kinds of bacteria and viruses. For example, it is relatively ineffective against the norovirus and rotavirus.

Using…hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol [is] the best second option if you do not have soap and running water

If you are going to be stationary for a while and don’t have hand washing facilities inside your rig, you can set up a hand wash station outside. Put your soap and water in a location where it’s easily accessible and wash up throughout the day. Clip a clean cloth or paper towels nearby. UNICEF says drying your hands is important too.

Germs spread more easily from wet skin than from dry skin, so drying your hands completely is an important step. Paper towels or clean cloths are the most effective way to remove germs without spreading them to other surfaces.

My final advice for you is about what to do with yourself while you are practicing social isolation. For nomads who are introverts, this won’t be such a problem, because we prefer to be away from crowds. However, the extroverts among us thrive off interacting with others and will have to figure out how to amuse themselves until the pandemic passes.

Several of the suggestions in my post “What Do I Do Now That I Have All This Time on My Hands?” are suitable for doing alone. If you have internet access, you can watch movies or television shows, often for free. 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.” If you’re able to stream you can attend the Metropolitan Opera for free without leaving your rig. You can also take virtual tours of museums around the world via the internet. Finally, if you like to color and an access a printer, you can download free coloring books from 113 museums.

These are trying times, friends. I hope this information and my suggestions can help you stay healthy, keep others healthy, and maintain your sanity for the duration.

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

Blaize Sun is not a medical professional. She did her best to insure the information in this article was accurate at the time of publication. Things are changing fast right now, and it’s possible this information will be outdated by the time you read it. As always, please look at this blog post as a starting point for your own research. Also, please seek medical attention if you need it. Blaize Sun is not responsible for you. Only you are responsible for you.

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.

Not sure what sorts of exercise to do? Check out Petrolene Le Roux’s article “Top 15 Best Exercises For Depression and Anxiety” on the Home Gym 101 website. Some of the exercises covered focus on the body, while others focus on the mind.

#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.

For more information on why you should go outside, read the TripOutside article “13 Remarkable Health Benefits of Getting Outdoors” by Julie Singh.

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.

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.

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.