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My house feels so… LARGE!

Have you ever uttered those words upon returning home after camping in a small RV or tent, or staying in a tiny cabin? You realize that during the past week or so of vacation, you were living with much less “domestic” space and significantly fewer possessions, yet during that time, your life felt more … expansive.

It prompts the question … “How much house – how much stuff – do we really need?” And maybe the second question becomes, “Does all this house – this stuff – enhance or diminish my sense of freedom, play and well-being?”

For those who have camped in a tent, small RV or van, or even stayed in a quaint cabin during vacation, you know it’s true: You can get along with much less. For some, this can be an emancipating realization, and at some point the “big purge” of excessive possessions results. For others, the recognition of having too much stuff is there, yet we find plenty of reasons why we think we need all the items we’ve accumulated over the years.

Interestingly, and not coincidentally, this article is mostly being penned from the deck of a 200-square-foot cabin in the woods – a writer’s hut, as one might consider it – though some summers we’ve lived in it for months at a time. It has no plumbing and no electricity. We use lanterns and candles for light. The wood stove, campfire, or a camp stove allows us to make our meals, coffee, and hot water. We “refrigerate” with a large cooler. We use a composting toilet. In this style of rustic living, nothing is instantaneous, every move is intentional, and our rhythms begin to synch to the natural world. It’s pure bliss, once we settle into the slowed down lifestyle!

My husband and I have a real affinity for camping small, traveling small, and even living small(ish), mostly because we find that the less stuff we have, the more richly life opens up to us. When staying “in” a tiny cabin, camper, tent, van, or other small dwelling, you will most likely do a good deal of your living outside. From my current vantage point as I write, I’m being entertained simultaneously by frogs, a beaver, and a multitude of birds. I’m not really caring what’s on TV or posted on Facebook at the moment! Outdoors is where the real action lies!

It’s no surprise that the nature-loving Scandinavians embrace a way of life that is all about enjoying and being outdoors, and the Norwegian term “friluftsliv” (free-loofts-liv) is used to describe their inherent and deep love of living in nature. The word translates to “free (or open) air living” and is more a simple lifestyle choice than anything related to outdoor adventure seeking. This is a culturally innate understanding that nature is good for you – body, mind and soul. Outdoor living might be considered a priority for many Nordic people, at least on weekends or during vacations, and many businesses even encourage their employees to get outside over their lunch break – not quite the eat-at-your-desk practice some of us have willingly or unwillingly experienced!

There is an enormous and growing body of evidence that reveals how connecting frequently with the natural world, even if it’s just 20 minutes in a city park on a regular basis, can provide lasting healing and health benefits. Time in nature has been found to increase mental focus, reduce stress, enhance physical health, and even foster a kinder, gentler, more compassionate population. Children with ADHD and other behavioral issues have been found to respond positively to nature “therapy,” and some schools are designing curriculum, play areas, and even buildings to allow for more nature-based connections. Even the tech industry and corporate world are embracing the data that their employees are happier and more creative if they have some sort of nature connection at or near their place of employment. And of course, practices in service to mindfulness while in nature, such as forest bathing, nature-based yoga, and even the forest church are seeing a surge in devotees.

Adversely, the rising level of urbanization, time on social media, and sitting in front of electronic devices are all found to contribute to deteriorating mental health such as depression and mental illness, as well as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. My husband and I have camped in many locations over the years, and it has been a common occurrence to camp in the site near a huge RV that carries the so-called luxuries of home, encouraging its occupants to stay inside and watch TV or movies the entire time they’re in the campground. Meanwhile their adjacent picnic table and campfire ring sit completely unused, the nearby gurgling creek goes unexplored, and the bountiful sounds of birdsong and wind through the trees goes unnoticed. That’s where living, camping and vacationing small can provide greater health benefits! Other than when we’re sleeping or there’s a heavy downpour, when in a tiny dwelling, we’re practically forced to be outdoors. As the saying goes … “There’s no such thing as bad weather. Just bad clothes!”

Reaping the health benefits of outdoor living, or embracing the Nordic philosophy of friluftsliv is relatively easy and uncomplicated. There is no need to acquire a lot of new and/or expensive equipment or strive to create “glamping” images to post on Instagram, both of which can actually create barriers between us and a more authentic nature connection.

To dwell well in a more minimalist way can lead to a deeper communion between humans and the wilder nature of which we’re all a part of. It takes a shedding of the mindset that more space and stuff makes us happier, and a desire to be present of the richness of the natural world around us! 

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