The Way of the Nomad

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a book that I've wanted for a LONG time...."Yurts: Living in the Round" by Becky Kemery. I have been pouring over it...learning about the history of this amazing structure and also falling in love again with the wisdom of ancient cultures. You don't have to be a nomad to recognize the beauty of the nomadic life...there is much to be learned from people who are truly living.

There is a section in the book that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I wanted to share it with you because it describes my thoughts about simplicity so perfectly:

The Central Asian nomads live with deep-rooted simplicity. Nomads carry with them what they need. Each person, for example, brings his or her own cup, bowl, and utensils when traveling. Waste is unthinkable; once something has served its usefulness in one area, it is put to use as something else. Every possession is chosen with care an ideally serves multiple function. With few possessions, there is the opportunity to bring artistry to every element of daily life. And because everything has its place in the circle of nomadic life (a placement prescribed by the very fabric of the culture), the setting of daily life is greatly simplified. One can walk in to any ger (yurt) and know where most items are stored and what part of the ger and know what part of the ger is used for which functions. This level of simplicity liberates energy for art, laughter, family, and tribe.

A final gift of the nomads is their intimate sense of connectedness. The circle is the symbol of interconnectedness, and the yurt makes this very real by creating a space for the family to live together in one large room, all the generations, interacting and creating a sense of tribe and family. Likewise, the veil between inside and outside is much thinner in a yurt; one knows when the wind blows or the temperature drops. the earth is truly underfoot, the night sky is visible through the smoke hole, and a sheep bleating in the middle of the night wakes up the herder. It is from this intimate sense of connection with all things around them that nomads living in balance in such a way that Mother Nature is never harmed.

I have bolded my favorite part...I think that every one of us wants to "bring artistry to every element of daily life". Imagine yourself waking up tomorrow morning. You walk into the kitchen...and as you pour the crystal clear water into the kettle, you listen carefully to the sound of the water splashing on the bottom. After preparing your coffee or tea, you reach for your mug which hangs on a colorfulfully painted peg on the wall. Each person in your family has their own mug that they use for drinking. You chose your particular mug for the beauty of the design and for how perfectly it fits into your hand as you enjoy a steamy hot drink. You pour your creamer in and stand amazed at the lovely patterns it makes as it blends into the liquid. With each sip, you are reminded of how beautiful life is. Are you laughing at me yet? Ok, does seem a bit crazy. would your life change if this was your reality? If you were able to see beauty in the mundane?

Think about how different your kitchen would be if each person in your family lived with a nomadic mindset and only had what they needed? One plate, one bowl, one mug/cup, a set of silverware. *GASP! What about company?!* I didn't say you had to get rid of your excess place settings...just put them away. In a cupboard above the fridge...or in the basement. If you have older children, they can be responsible for their setting (cleaning, putting away, etc.). If their bowl is dirty, they don't take out another, they just quickly wash the bowl and use it again.

If you want to really have fun...go to the thrift store and let the children pick out their very favorite plate/bowl/cup. It would probably cost about $2 per person...but it would give each person a sense of ownership. Some of my very favorite dishes came from thrift stores! If you are someone that has to have matching everything, this obviously wouldn't work for you :) I know from personal experience, that once I downsized my kitchen "stuff" by about 75%, life became very happy. Look at the things you use every day, and keep them. Everything else goes away (at least out of sight). I could have a fully functional kitchen with one large chef's knife and a few bowls. And remember... "this level of simplicity liberates energy for art, laughter, family, and tribe". Because who wants to do dishes all day? Be liberated!

The second part of this quote speaks about living in close quarters...specifically one large "great room", and how it magically brings people together. Now that we have come "off the road" and out of the RV for a few months, we are noticing how hard it is to connect as a family. We really have to work at having time together...uninterrupted by TV, activities, and spacious homes. We REALLY like living in a small space because it's so easy to bond together and to truly live. It's been a great learning experience ... I don't think we will ever go back to a big house. Too much space to get away from your family! After awhile, you start to think you actually NEED that space.

Another book that I am planning on getting from the library...A Handmade Life by Bill Coperthwaite (maker/mastermind behind the tapered wall wooden yurt). A little about Bill...

William Coperthwaite is a teacher, builder, designer, and writer who for many years has explored the possibilities of true simplicity on a homestead on the north coast of Maine. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Helen and Scott Nearing, Coperthwaite has fashioned a livelihood of integrity and completeness-buying almost nothing, providing for his own needs, and serving as a guide and companion to hundreds of apprentices drawn to his unique way of being. (

For those of you in Maine, you should venture to "Dickinson's Reach" on the northeast coast sometime to visit his homestead. I wish I would have known about it while we were up there this fall! Here is a nice little article about him...he's a man after my own heart: ''If living is to be right, it ought to be beautiful," declares Coperthwaite. Preach it, Bill!

Can life be beautiful even with just a few possessions? Yes! This is just one of the reasons why I am in awe of the Mongolian culture (their gers/yurts in particular) and how they have taken such care in making their life beautiful. Every time I see one of their beautiful doors, my breath is taken away. I have also fallen in love with their furnishings. Pure color and form.

It's so interesting to me that we can draw insight and inspiration from a culture and lifestyle that most of mainstream America would deem as "primitive". Our country would be a different place if more families lived in such close community and focused on making life beautiful with less.

Creative Commons Photo Credit: dwarawlinson


All Packed Up STUFF. It's amazing to me how much stuff we managed to fit in our cozy little apartment in Bozeman. Even after we had taken all of the important and beloved items to the RV, we were still left with what you see in the above photo. This photo was taken right before we loaded up the truck to get rid of it all. We sold all of the furniture and higher priced items and gave everything else away. Well, almost everything. We kept the little munchkin hiding in the piles. It's like Where's Waldo :) Do you see her?

It was very freeing to downsize again...this time was much more drastic than any of our moves before. We ended up keeping only the stack of green totes behind Bella. The funny thing is...I don't miss any of it. But I do think about "stuff" a lot. Not how to get it, but rather how I can get rid of it! I still go through the RV and make piles of stuff to give away. As we were packing, I started wondering how it all got into my possession in the first place. So...let's discuss. How DOES all of this stuff get into our homes?

Where does it all come from? Well, Target of course! Isn't that where all STUFF originates from?! If it's not Target, it's another store that tells you that last season's style is now out of style. When I think back to my college days of credit cards and endless was usually when Target changed seasons that I went berserk. All of those cool new things in new colors! Calling my name! Ooooh! It didn't matter if I had something just like it at home already...whatever the thing was, the new one was better. Then, when I brought it home...the other item that I didn't want anymore would just get put in a cupboard, a drawer, or the basement....and voila! Follow that sequence enough and CLUTTER IS BORN.

Our dissatisfaction with our current state of possessions is mostly driven by advertising. It's practically unavoidable. The mall and television are the main culprits...but even without a television and with trying to avoiding the mall, I am still prone to being sucked in by banner ads for natural products or emails from companies I have bought from in the past sending me sale notices, etc. But, I know my weaknesses and I have started to unsubscribe from all of these tempting offers.

Speaking of knowing weaknesses...thrifting, garage sale-ing, ebaying. I'm sure there are many who read this blog who have a love of any or all of those things. But too much love for those things, and clutter will find you too! It used to be very hard for me to even go into a thrift store or to a garage sale without finding all kinds of things that would be "perfect"! When I had a larger living space, it was way too easy to find space to put all of it. But now, I have no extra space. I can tell myself "no" because I can't imagine where it will go!

So we've established that stuff comes from or used. It also comes from the stuff-giving people in your life. If you have someone in your life who is constantly buying you things, it can be very difficult to handle if you are trying to downsize. Lucky for me, I can just say "sorry...we don't have any more room in the RV!". But that isn't the case for most! :) My philosophy is to ALWAYS graciously accept whatever it is that someone is giving you. They have obviously given some thought into the matter and it's important to them that you have it. If you decide later that you just don't want to keep it, you can give it away, re-gift it to someone else, or if you're could sell it! Hey! It's practical. Some of you may have a problem with my suggestions, but when you're downsizing...sometimes you have to be brutal. I'm not going to keep a dust-gathering figurine just because someone else thought I should have it in my house. If you have someone close to you who is consistently giving you things against your wishes, it would be wise to sit down and have a heart to heart about your values and goals for your home. You could give them some ideas of things that would be really useful gifts for you...or you can also ask them to give you gifts of their TIME instead. They could have you over for dinner or take the kids so you can have some alone time.

What is "enough"? This is a question that only you can answer. I often get people asking me how much clothing they should keep or how many toys their child should have. It really just depends on what your priorities are. What works for one person would never work for another. Everyone one will have some types of possessions that will look like "excess" to someone else. The line between necessity and luxury is different for each person/family. You might be surprised at how little you actually need to live. I'm not saying that everyone would be happy selling it all and moving into an RV :). But it's a really good exercise to truly examine what things are important for you to keep and what things are just taking up time and energy. Ask the hard questions of yourself. Why do you "need" a certain item? Could you live without it and still have the same quality of life? Some of you might have never considered living without a car. You might be surprised at how much stress it relieves! For others, living without a car would actually create more stress.

If you have the special gift of hospitality and you love to open your home to others and serve probably don't want to get rid of all of your extra dishes. On the other hand, if you have 25 cute coffee mugs, but you have never had more than 2 people over at one time for might want to consider downsizing your collection. If you have a home with 2 spare bedrooms, but you only use them one weekend out of the would probably benefit by downsizing your home. If you have people staying with you all the time and you love being able to open your home to traveling guests...then keep the bigger house!

Clothing is a great place to start your downsizing journey because nearly everyone has too many clothes! However, it can be a hard one because there tends to be a lot of emotions there. But they are just clothes, and they don't make you who you are! If you have a piece of clothing you're holding onto for sentimental reasons, consider making a throw pillow out of it or frame a piece of it like art. That way you can re-claim the space in your closet and make your memory functional.

If you haven't been able to fit in those five pairs great jeans for 2's probably time to give them away and enjoy the extra space in your closet. If you don't love how you feel when you where it, it shouldn't be there. If it stains easily, is hard to wash, or is not shouldn't be there. If you haven't worn it in a's gone! There are a couple of exceptions of course. If you have a job that requires a certain type of dress code, you will obviously need to keep clothes for work. And if you don't have laundry on-site, it's often easier to keep a few more clothes than you think you will need so that you have some available even if you can't make it to the laundromat.

I'm sure that you have some things in your life that bring you extreme joy when you use them. For me it's tea, pillows, cookbooks, and photos. Those are things that I will occasionally downsize, but I know that it's ok for me to have what may look like excess to other people... because I LOVE them. Just know yourself...know WHY you are keeping something around. Only you can decide what works and what doesn't.

Getting Rid of Stuff The best way to start your downsizing journey is to JUST START. When I have stuff I need to go through, I create three boxes. The first box says "KEEP", the second box says, "DONATE", the third box says "SELL". You can also have a fourth box that says "NOT SURE". After you start doing this a lot, you'll find that less and less goes in the "not sure" box because you get better at making decisions about what is important and what isn't. Once you have your boxes set up...get busy! It helps to have a non-biased person helping because they can talk some sense into you when you when you need it. When you are done, put the donate box by the door so you can continue throwing stuff into it every day. When it's full, put it in your car and take it to the Goodwill/Thrift/Salvation Army store that very same day. Don't delay...otherwise it will sit there for 6 months. After 6 months you'll find it and think "ooooh...look at all this fun STUFF!". Just get rid of it fast and don't look back. You won't miss it. Take the sell box and sell those items on Craigslist, eBay, or your local classifieds.

Here are some places to focus your efforts:

  • Clothing (as discussed above)
  • Books: If you haven't read it and never will, pass it on to someone else, sell it, or donate it to the library. I try to only keep my very favorite books on the shelf.
  • Dishes: I like to only keep on hand what I need for my immediate family. One plate, one cup, etc. for each person. The rest goes in storage until we have guests. This also makes doing dishes much more enjoyable.

When you are at a level of possessions that you are happy with...make sure that everything has a place. I cannot stress this enough. When you don't have a place for something, it just goes on the counter. Clutter breeds clutter, so pretty soon you have a little clutter colony there. You should have a place for keys. A place for incoming mail. A place for pens...and so on. It will be so much easier to clean your house when you can put it all away quickly. I also prefer to have a clean counter-top in the kitchen and bathroom. If you have the space to get your appliances and knick-nacks off of the counter and put them into cupboards or it. You'll be amazed at the difference it makes. Replace those items with a simple bouquet of wildflowers, wipe off your empty counter and SMILE!

If you do live in a small space, it's critical that you de-clutter and put everything away EVERY night. If you let it build up for even one day, it can be overwhelming and get out of control. It's especially true in the RV...I usually go through at least 2-3 times a day and put stuff away, straighten the counters, the bed, etc. I actually love doing it...because when everything has a place, it's a JOY to "keep house"!

A Joy to Keep House?! Yes. When your home is organized and will be a different person. Your outlook on life changes. Situations that seemed out of control and chaotic now seem manageable. When you wake up and walk to the kitchen to make coffee and your counter-top is clean...your day just got that much easier.

The state of your home is in direct proportion to the state of your heart/mind. When you have piles of stuff all over your house, your spirit just gets bogged down with all of it whether you know it or not. When you don't have to worry about moving your STUFF around, cleaning your STUFF, and storing your have a lot more time to spend doing things things that you love and spending time with your family and friends! And that's what life is all about.


In my journey of downsizing and "letting go" of my stuff...I have often thought about what it would feel like if I truly had nothing. What if I was so poor and in need, that I didn't have even ONE thing that I could get rid of? I've never been in that situation, so my mind can't even fathom it, but so many people live with SO LITTLE, with no end in sight.

During this holiday season especially, I am reminded over and over of how much I do have. We are wealthy beyond measure. If I need something, I can go and buy it. If we need socks, shoes, food, bedding, or eyeglasses, we just go buy it. With that said, the following statistics are shocking...

  • Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day. 1
  • “The combined wealth of the world’s 200 richest people hit $1 trillion in 1999; the combined incomes of the 582 million people living in the 43 least developed countries is $146 billion.” 1

What would Jesus say to this? You don't have to look far to find out. Jesus talks about the poor A LOT. He talks about giving your belongings to them... feeding them...caring for them. Basically, treat them as you would want to be treated...and most of all: SHARE your stuff! The second statistic above is just mind boggling to me. When Jesus looks down on us, he sees enough food, enough money, and enough shelter to keep everyone in the world from wanting. But not many will share.

"John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." Luke 3:11


If we take this scripture to heart/ can we biblically own more than we need? This has been on my mind a lot as I go through my possessions. I ask myself..."Who could use this RIGHT NOW?". Sure, I "might" need it "someday"...but I can give it to someone that needs it today. But what about those homeless/needy people who appear to have the means to get out of "their situation"? Doesn't giving to them just enable them to remain homeless? I truly think that if we are giving abundantly to others, Jesus will take care of the rest. Of course, exercise due caution, and don't give cash directly. There are so many other ways to help.

What was so different about the early Christian church? Why could they live this way and today we find it beyond impossible?

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Acts 2:44-46

Why does one neighborhood need a lawn mower in every garage? Why does each individual family spend money on things they will only use a few times a year? Why not have a common area where things can be "checked out" from? Part of the reason is that we have isolated ourselves and no one knows their neighbors anymore. We are an automated and isolated nation. I am fascinated by communal living and intentional communities with this type of possession "system"...but that's a different blog post altogether! :)

I'm quite disturbed about the homeless situation in our country. Let me start by saying that I don't know anything about being homeless. I have never volunteered at a homeless shelter, I have never housed anyone who was homeless, and I've never been without a place to sleep at night. But I just can't stop thinking about it.

The majority of homeowners think that they "need" a guest bedroom that will be used a few times a year. These rooms sit empty when there are people living on the streets. Not that all of you who have guest bedrooms should go and find a homeless person and put them up...I'm just interested in this crazy trend.

Shane Claiborne, author of "The Irresistible Revolution" has a lot to say about the homeless and how Jesus would treat them. This book is hands down my favorite of the entire year. I jokingly call it "my second Bible". It will forever change you. Here is a review...

If there is such a thing as a disarming radical, 30-year-old Claiborne is it. A former Tennessee Methodist and born-again, high school prom king, Claiborne is now a founding member of one of a growing number of radical faith communities. His is called the Simple Way, located in a destitute neighborhood of Philadelphia. It is a house of young believers, some single, some married, who live among the poor and homeless. They call themselves "ordinary radicals" because they attempt to live like Christ and the earliest converts to Christianity, ignoring social status and unencumbered by material comforts. Claiborne's chatty and compelling narrative is magnetic—his stories (from galvanizing a student movement that saved a group of homeless families from eviction to reaching Mother Teresa herself from a dorm phone at 2 a.m.) draw the reader in with humor and intimacy, only to turn the most common ways of practicing religion upside down. He somehow skewers the insulation of suburban living and the hypocrisy of wealthy churches without any self-righteous finger pointing. "The world," he says, "cannot afford the American dream." Claiborne's conviction, personal experience and description of others like him are a clarion call to rethink the meaning of church, conversion and Christianity; no reader will go away unshaken.

It's my dream to go visit his community, The Simple Way. I would love to interact with that group for a month and learn to truly look beyond appearances and love beyond myself.

One of my favorite singers, Ani Difranco, wrote a song called Subdivision. You can hear it on this site. Her music and her message are beyond amazing. And although I don't agree with all of her opinions...I think she is one of the most talented and brave voices out there. Here are some of the lyrics of Subdivision that have really stuck with me:

I remember the first time I saw someone lying on the cold street I thought, "I can't just walk past you, this can't just be true." But I learned by example to just keep moving my feet. It's amazing the things that we all learn to do. So we're led by denial like lambs to the slaughter Serving empires of style and carbonated sugar water and the old farm road's a four-lane that leads to the mall and my dreams are all guillotines waiting to fall And I wonder then what it will take for my country to rise. First we admit our mistakes and then we open our eyes.

Whenever I have visited a large city...with homeless lying "on the cold street"...something churns within me. I wonder what circumstances led to them losing their home. Drugs? Losing a job? Some other addiction? Just a bad string of events with no family to help? I always want to ask. But like Ani says ... I've "learned by example to just keep moving my feet". So sad.

I went to see the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness " a few weeks ago and it deeply moved me. I depicts the true story of a single dad and his son...fighting to make it...and they do end up on the streets for awhile. It was heartbreaking, but such a wonderful film. Not a feel good film, but one that will open your eyes.

These thoughts have been on my mind for so's such a hard topic to talk about because if we truly LIVE out what Jesus has shown requires us to ACT. It requires us to take care of others unselfishly. I know that there are many who can debate this topic more eloquently than I can...arguing that the wealthy need their large homes and toys to minister to those people who will only respond that way to Christ. I'm still thinking through all of that...and I know that God uses everyone where they are at right now, and with the possessions they have right now. But how much is too much? Where do we draw the line between having excess possessions to "minister to others" and living as Christ commands us? Where is the line between being too radical in your lack of possessions (if there is such a thing) and having too much?