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?”