Full-timer: Homeless by another name

One of the fun parts about being Editor of a magazine is that I get to meet all kinds of interesting writers.  One of the writers to recently join the Airstream Life team is Becky Blanton, a very interesting person.  Becky is a middle-aged single woman and accomplished writer with several awards to her credit, who just happened to become homeless late in life.  She has since turned circumstances around again, so that now she is able to live as she pleases, but she chooses to continue as a “homeless” person while she writes for Airstream Life and many other publications.

Becky recently raised the question in a provocative blog entry over at Change.org:  When she travels and lives out of her rickety old van, is she “homeless” or is she a “full-timer”?   She makes the point that homelessness is an attitude, not a condition, because it is not defined by “living in a van” but rather by choices and status.

This resonated with me because we spent two years “full-timing” in our Airstream with no home or apartment to come back to.  The Airstream was our home.  We often told people that we were “homeless by choice.”  It was less expensive to live in the Airstream than the house we previously owned, but we didn’t move to the Airstream because it was cheap.  We wanted to improve our lives.  Along the way, we tried to help people understand that having or not having a house is irrelevant, and could even be a detrimental factor, to having a good life.

Homelessness is descriptor that defines nothing.  You can be living in a trailer or van and having the dream adventure of your life, or you can be down-and-out and addicted, or anywhere in between.  Quality of life is a factor that, barring mental or physical illness, is within our control. After selling our house in Vermont and going on the road in 2005, I realized that I regarded myself as more successful and happier than I had ever been before. Eleanor and I traded the trappings of success for freedom.  My startup business, Airstream Life magazine, was not able to pay me a salary for years.  Our living quarters encompassed a measly 240 square feet — for three people.  So why was I so much happier?  As we said many times along the way, “We are paid in lifestyle.”

Coming back to a house, it was obvious that we could easily get caught in any number of house ownership traps again, so we did what we could to avoid it.  We bought a small, moderately priced house that could be left empty for months at a time, should we choose to go traveling again.  We refused to get into the trap of buying furnishings and other stuff to make it into “house beautiful.”  (Our living room is still so empty it looks like a zen garden.)  We have fought hard against accumulating “stuff,” especially stuff that doesn’t fit into the Airstream, on the theory that if we can go six months without missing it, we don’t really need it.

Even now, it’s still unclear which is our primary home: the house or the Airstream?  But it’s just academic.  A stripped-down life on the road brought us back to the things that were really important to us, and now we have a better perspective on the choices that lie ahead.   Homelessness — or at least the positive mental attitude about having more with less — can be a factor to improve one’s life, under the right circumstances.  Whether you live in a Malibu beach home, or a van down by the river, the bottom line is, “Are you happy?”


  1. says

    I am blown away by the premise you so eloquently put forth in this blog post. What an amazing revelation it is to me to read this as I sit in a living room full of “stuff.” I love stuff — especially antiques and home furnishings. I moved a lot as a kid and, who am I kidding, as an adult by my own choice. I love nesting. I love looking at my home and thinking, “It looks great.” But there’s always an “if.” If I had a new couch it would look better. If I bought a new rug. it would look better. It’s almost as though I’m expecting some celebrity for dinner. Subliminally, I’m anxious about whether people will like my house. But why? No one who walks into my house judges me by those material trappings — and if they do, they aren’t my friends. They either like me or they don’t. I have to admit, I’m happy at this point in my life, and I wasn’t happy at other times, but it has nothing at all to do with having “stuff.” I could give it all up today and make an Airstream my home, too; I would be just as happy. That is an epiphany. Thank you.

  2. says

    We met Rieteke, a full-timer for 35 years and counting, last week in Osoyoos, B.C. She is pedaling her bicycle (for the umpteenth time, at least) from Montreal to Vancouver. She’ll pick up some work, stay as long as she likes, then head south for winter.

    People try to impress gifts upon her, like a kilo of almonds or a liter of a beverage. Politely refusing, she tries to explain the weight burden of these things. But she doesn’t bother to explain what we’ve learned: we don’t want to add to our possessions. It was difficult enough to eliminate our stuff the first time.

    Rieteke is the full-timer with the least stuff of any we’ve met. She seems a purist — expresses her love for her lifestyle as a worship of the Sun. Not for solar gain per se, but for the great outdoors. When Canada turns cold, she turns south. To Mexico, or Arizona, or Australia, in her annual trip she calls her one extravagance.

    She tents all the time except for occasional house-sitting. She considers our homelessness and that you experienced as only more luxurious than hers but otherwise the same. We all choose this mode as, she insists, do all people who eschew the burdens of property.

    Great post, Rich. Thanks for the thoughts.

    Jim and Debbie

    Vancouver, B.C.

  3. says

    “Our living room is still so empty it looks like a zen garden.”

    We know exactly what that feels like. And boy did it ever make moving a breeze!

    “We wanted to improve our lives.”

    That is exactly how we explain our lifestlye to others. Although a lot of them still do not understand. :)

    “We are paid in lifestyle.”

    Excellent quote! Thanks for sharing.

    It’s always nice to read your updates. Please say hello to the ladies for us!

  4. says

    sKY:: and I recently helped a friend move from a farm house that he had been renting for the last 18 years. ‘the farm’ is an enchanted corner of the world on a 100 acres accented by a beautiful stone house with 2′ thick walls a plethora of trails through a cedar forest that wind in and around a spring fed pond with a cozy wood fired sauna. Our friend is one that says ‘i might need that some day’ and had a collection of stuff that was truly overwhelming considering that he didn’t start to organize it all until 5 days before the move. There were a lot of tough decisions and emotion. The experience left me thankful for the simplicity of our airstream lifestyle. Even though we have not even come upon our 1st anniversary in our ‘silver lined dream’ i am thinking about purging 😉 Your previous entry about the ‘sky islands’ was fantastic and inspiring. Love to you and the girls.

  5. says

    A friend recently sent me this quote from Thoreau. Apparently this debate is nothing new:

    “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him. As I understand it, that was a valid objection urged by Momus against the house which Minerva made, that she “had not made it movable, by which means a bad neighborhood might be avoided”; and it may still be urged, for our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them; and the bad neighborhood to be avoided is our own scurvy selves. I know one or two families, at least, in this town, who, for nearly a generation, have been wishing to sell their houses in the outskirts and move into the village, but have not been able to accomplish it, and only death will set them free.”