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Traveling Light : Embracing Minimalism On the Road

April 13, 2016

I thought this piece by Sophie O’Shea of The Ethical Wardrobe was really timely because of my most recent post about buying less and curating a capsule style wardrobe. And also because I’m slightly envious of her friends’, Courtney Hade, 9 month journey around Australia with her husband in an AWD vehicle. Sigh. What I wouldn’t give to drop off the grid for several months and travel with my husband. It’s actually something I daydream about often.

It’s also a nice insight into the fact that we truly can live without some of the trappings of modern life; once we’ve thrived without all the stuff we thought we needed we realize how fulfilled we can be (or even better off) without it all.

Originally posted on The Ethical Wardrobe, by Sophie O’Shea

Courtney Hade is my friend, ex-colleague (notable fact: I baked her a gluten-free rainbow cake for her last day at work and I am NOT a baker – so she made an impression!), intrepid traveller, health and wellness guru and one of my minimalist heroes, maybe without even setting out to be. Last year, Court and her new hubby Drew quit their jobs, packed up a 4WD and a caravan and took off around Australia for nine whole months. In this awe-inspiring display of grabbing life by the balls, Court not only lit up my Facebook feed with amazing pictures from corners of the country I hadn’t even heard of, she also inspired me to think differently about what a full life meant. I’d say Court’s a bit of a natural minimalist (she ate weird leftovers out of jars long before it was trendy), but life on the road cemented a lot of her ideas about what’s important. She’s the perfect person to share some insights about finding minimalism on the road – and taking it home again. Enjoy! 

The simple life - it's pretty effing beautiful, hey?
The simple life – it’s pretty effing beautiful, hey?

You and Drew went from living in a comfortable two bedroom apartment of your own to living in a caravan for nine months. This meant a pretty huge downgrade in the quantity of stuff you could realistically have. Was that daunting when you were preparing and starting out?

Hell yes! Drew and I set ourselves a major challenge to leave our jobs, downsize our lives to travel this gorgeous country of ours for nine months. Screw waiting for retirement, we wanted to see the sights while we were young enough to explore every nook and cranny.

We rented out our newly renovated apartment, bought a 4WD, packed up our tent and borrowed the family caravan to make our dream a reality. When preparing for our adventure around Australia, I’ll admit I was freaking out about how we would cope.

We were about to go from a two bedroom apartment filled with the mods and cons of contemporary living – air con, double shower, wardrobe bursting at the seams and a kitchen fully equipped to store all of the abundance of fresh food that I was consuming – to a 14 foot caravan, with no bathroom, no excess storage space and a teensy 40 litre car fridge and no power in sight to blitz  up green smoothies.

We still had all of the necessary items we needed to survive, but just the thought of ‘going without’ was pretty daunting.

Looking back now this seems very petty. In truth, while we ditched the everyday household items (television, washing machine, dishwasher, nice crockery, and of course a full wardrobe) we made up for with other camping paraphernalia (satellite phone, Weber bbq, camp oven) all of which we had to fit into a tiny space.

Hiking in the NT.
Hiking in the NT.

We definitely managed, and the result was a very organised car and caravan with only the essential items. Everything we took we used on an almost daily basis and everything had a purpose.

Tell us about your on-the-road wardrobe. Was fashion/dressing something you thought about during the year? Did you get bored of the things you had? Did they last? Were there things you missed? Did you shop along the way?

As we were to spend most of our time in the car completing the 40,000km trip, comfort and practicality was key. If an item didn’t fit this bill it didn’t get packed. We only had one Bunnings plastic tub each (about 1 metre long and 30 cms deep (see photo). Also as we planned to chase the sun around the country we needed sensible sun smart gear. There’s a reason you see country folk wearing Akubra hats and collared shirts, and it’s not so city folk have inspiration for Australia Day dress ups parties (BURN!!! – Soph).

Hanging out on a farm in SA.
Hanging out on a farm in SA.

I didn’t buy anything new for an entire year. Shopping was not even on our radar (or in our budget). Five months into our trip my sister sent me a package of about four long sleeved shirts she’d sourced from op shops which was the best gift ever after I’d sweated yellow marks through a few shirts already!

I started to prefer dressing in my flanny and shorts. I liked the lack of choice my little tub presented each day, it made getting dressed in the morning much easier.

I did notice though that I had greater anxiety dressing on the occasions that we were in major cities because I didn’t have much ‘good’ stuff’ and it seems when we are around more people we want to look ‘our best’.

Here’s what I packed:

  • 1 x ‘good’ pair of shoes and a dress for the odd occasion that we would go out.
  • Hiking boots, sneakers and a pair of thongs.
  • Shorts x 2
  • Jeans x 2
  • Raincoat x 1
  • Jumper x 2
  • Tshirts x 4
  • Bathers x 3
  • Long sleeved and collared shirts x 3
  • Beanie
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Undies – surely no one wants to know how many? Ok, about 10…
Under bed storage
Under bed storage

Has your attitude to your wardrobe, and stuff in general changed since you got back?

When we returned to Melbourne I felt overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that we owned. We went from surviving – no not even surviving, but thriving – with so little possessions to facing boxes and cupboards and an entire shed filled with ‘stuff’ when we returned ‘home’. Stuff we’d managed to live without for nearly a year.

Trying to make sense of our stuff when we got back.
Trying to make sense of our stuff when we got back.

Bit by bit we are minimising our lives, giving away what we no longer need and actually using the stuff that we do have – like the Royal Dalton tea set that was my nanna’s I now use regularly, because what’s the point having things sitting on display unused?

I am consciously  trying to create a home where everything has a functional use, including my wardrobe, which I will admit has a bit of work to go.

But I no longer want to hold on to 3 sequin dresses just in case ‘one day’ I might get invited to a dress up party and want to go as a disco queen…

What does an ethical wardrobe look like for you?

One that is not filled with random items that are purchased for the sake of it because it was cheap. I still only hit up op shops but am trying to only purchase items for them $1 bargain bin if I absolutely need the item.

Setting up camp in outback WA
Setting up camp in outback WA

Do you consider yourself a minimalist? What does minimalism mean to you?

I get overwhelmed when I am surrounded by too much ‘stuff’. I find it weighs me down energetically, and when it comes to my home I like to have everything in its place as it makes me feel at ease. So I guess in that regard I am a little bit of a minimalist and I definitely believe people have too many possessions in general.

From our trip borrowing Drew’s family caravan and seeing how little we can survive from we’ve started to consciously find ways to do things without consuming for the sake of it. Our garden wedding recently was created using borrowed furniture from friends and family, gifts made from home produce and our new home is furnished with items others no longer need and have been happy to give away.

If we all pool our resources I think we would find we would all consume a lot less.

Driving through rivers on the Gibb River Road in remote WA.
Driving through rivers on the Gibb River Road in remote WA.


Check out more of Court’s lessons in minimalism learnt from life on the road, documented in her fab blog, Courtney’s Empire

Sophie O’Shea is the Australia based blogger behind The Ethical Wardrobe, who has made the commitment not to buy any new clothes, shoes, or accessories in 2016. Read along as she documents her journey to living a simpler, more fulfilling life.

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LOVE | ALICE GRACE April 13, 2016 at 3:01 pm

I’m not sure how I’d cope but I find these story very empowering

My Kind Closet April 15, 2016 at 8:31 pm

I agree – very empowering! And I think it would take some adjusting, but eventually you’d probably grow to enjoy it 🙂

courtneysempire April 14, 2016 at 4:56 am

Thanks for sharing my words so kindly first placed on The Ethical Wardrobe by my lovely friend Sophie O’Shea. It is very humbling to see there are so many other likeminded people out there who are making a mindful effort to live with less. Love your blog & thanks again for sharing the love 🙂 Courtney

My Kind Closet April 14, 2016 at 8:31 pm

Thanks, Courtney! What an inspiring trip. And it really is both comforting and empowering to read about different experiences with trying to live more. simply. I’m looking forward to reading more on your blog 🙂 xx, S


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