A Good Habit Born of Adversity

The story of becoming a minimalist while having a travelling home office.

In 2013 I sold my home and began a journey of remote working while living in an RV for most of the next two years. Why I made this choice is a long tale better told in another time and place. The short version is about making hard decisions paying medical expenses to avoid bankruptcy, honoring dying wishes, and commitment to family. It was a major shift in the lives of me, my daughter, and my wife before her passing in 2015. This adversity changed my life in innumerable ways.

One change is my disdain for filing and retaining paperwork.

You probably didn’t see that coming. Well, neither did I at the time.

Condensing from a suburban-home lifestyle into a storage unit and an RV is a quick way to learn what is important to fit in a small box you can carry anywhere. You become a minimalist by sheer necessity. For the sake of a pun, maybe “shear necessity” is a better description. You learn to cut away the unnecessary.

Today, a decade later, I look around my home office and see a full, moderately sized file drawer, and a small filing box with a handle and latched lid. There is not a thing in the drawer I will miss in nearly any circumstance. The small filing box is everything that matters, and only that. Much of the file drawer content is from my life renewed when I married Kally in 2020. We still have work to do streamlining our united lives.

What is in the file box varied a little with time and fits the needs of the moment. Some items are constant like passports; titles, birth, marriage, death certificates; property and loan documents; and financial information. When I file anything now, I ask myself if it is important enough to be needed if I lose everything in some disaster.

Recently an add to the box surprised me. My college records for recurring job-related background checks.

In downsizing drastically there was a period of discovery in sorting what I needed while traveling for weeks or months in another state. If I needed something from storage it was a non-trivial issue to retrieve it. I learned fast. The first month required multiple dives into the storage unit to excavate something vital and leave something once thought important. Each expedition to the storage unit was excruciating.

Living in my new home now for a few years I have accumulated more stuff. What sticks with me is always asking if I really need it, can I live without it, can I leave it behind. I convinced that household junk reproduces in the dark or if left in the garage unwatched.

My adversity bore a lesson I can never shake. Whatever I have around me, whatever I own, I mentally cataloged into vital and trivial. Kally and I contemplate sometimes moving or maybe taking extended stays around the country. I know what I will take with me then. My file-box is atomic in that sense.

Now I need to figure out what to do with our cats.