You can practice simple, intentional living anywhere–even in a travel trailer with 9 other people! Read this interview with Christy Bagasao, homeschooling mom of 8, about her simple living journey.
With the modern-day tiny house movement, stories of people living out of RVs or other minuscule spaces aren’t that rare any more. But imagine you lived in an RV with nine other people, and a cat, year round, full time. This is life for Christy Bagasao of The Travel Bags, and if you ask her, it’s a very good life!
The Bagasao family sold their home and took their Christian music mission on the road full time in 2012. They’ve been nomading around the United States ever since. I loved Christy’s writings when I first “met” her via The Humbled Homemaker blog, where we were both contributors. Recently I got to catch up with her and ask her some questions about what simple, intentional living looks like for her family.
I know you’ll be blessed, challenged, and inspired by Christy’s stories and insights. You should know up front that this is a long interview…so I recommend you grab a cup of coffee and savor it when you have a little downtime! Reader, it is so, so worth it! These days the internet is full of articles that aren’t worth your time. This one is.
Elsie: Your family had to get rid of most of your things when you went on the road full time. Was purging your possessions like that harder or easier than you imagined?
Christy: I grew up on the farm that my great grandparents built. That means there’s stuff in barns, outbuildings, closets, and attics from now-five generations of people. While it’s a far cry from an episode of Hoarders, I definitely didn’t grow up with a purging mentality. My grandfather was known far and wide for his collection of junque that he hunted down at garage sales and flea markets over his 89 years, and I was his right-hand girl back in my skinny-little-kid summers. There was always another shelf, another barn, another space to stick each newfound what-not.
Once I established my own family in my own home with—gasp—no barns, I gradually realized that I was spending too much time tending stuff I didn’t love. I didn’t love seeing it, finding space for it, or stepping over it, and I certainly didn’t love picking it up—it was too much like exercise. Bend, stretch, down, up, repeat.
I began the purging process and shifting my mentality when my third daughter was born (she’s now 17). Retraining my brain was much more difficult than I imagined. It took time, but eventually I learned to (mostly) embrace decluttering and the simpler life, which is what led my husband to build my homemaking blog, The Simple Homemaker.
We did several major purges over the years. The biggest purge came when we transitioned from The Stationary Bags to The Travel Bags, hitting the road in a travel trailer with our now-8 kids as full-time music missionaries. That was a little harder, because I knew we had limited space. I let some things go that I wouldn’t have otherwise, which was ultimately a good thing.
Let me tell you a story.
My son wore his little black cowboy hat everywhere for three years. When he outgrew it, he put it in a garage sale for $2. A man brought it to me to buy, and I gasped, “Elijah! Your hat!” He said, “Mommy, it duthn’t fit me. It’th jutht in the way, I don’t love it anymore, and I need the money for Legoth.” The man bought it for his very excited grandson, and Elijah saved enough money for a Lego set that made him very happy. The only person clinging to the hat was me…and it wasn’t even my size.
Elijah was right. I have my family, memories, and about 300 million pictures on a cloud somewhere near Jupiter that I’ll never look at. I certainly don’t need stuff getting in the way of living. Because deep down I believe that, it was easier to purge than I thought it would be.
Elsie: Did it make it easier to purge knowing that some of your stuff would be kept in a storage unit and wouldn’t be gone forever?
Christy: The storage issue highlighted my ongoing internal battle:
Recovering Packrat Me (because you’re never fully recovered): Oh, goodie! A place to keep my junque!
Annoyingly Frugal Me: This would be cheaper if I kept less junk and we got a smaller unit.
Nostalgic Mama Me: Everything reminds me of my babies and my childhood! Let’s keep it all.
Just in Case Me: The kids will grow into this, we might have another baby, we might get another dog…
Simple Homemaker Me: Do you love it? Can someone else use it? Take a picture, let it go, trust God, and have a cookie.
Mostly, Simple Homemaker Me won, but knowing I could keep some items in storage made the emotional aspect of letting go easier.
Elsie: How did you determine which items to store?
Christy: Six years ago we didn’t know if we’d be full-time music missionaries for one year or twenty. That made our decisions tricky.
We kept what we can’t easily or affordably replace, but which we will need if we set down roots again—my piano, a table large enough to seat our entire family with enough chairs for ten backsides, beds, a couch that fits all of us at once, about half my ridiculous book collection, the super cool toys like Legos and Little People—you know, the essentials.
We also kept small amounts of memorabilia. Steve has a tiny little box from his childhood—let’s not talk about me right now. The kids were each given a big box to fill with treasures they wanted to hold onto. We weren’t mean about it, and if there was something special that didn’t fit in the box, it found a space in another keep-it box.
We had two storage units when we first left. Eventually, we returned to Nevada and donated almost everything from the smaller unit to a needy community that our church was assisting. All of it—gone. The only thing I regret giving away was a little wooden beading set, because I didn’t check it before I sent it off, and I’m sure my now-20-year-old handmade a necklace that was in there. That’s it…one child’s necklace from an entire storage unit.
If we were never going to have a house again (which we can’t know), we would reduce the contents of our remaining unit by about 95%. If I had to do it all over again, I’m fairly positive there would be about a 50% reduction, unless Recovering Packrat Me raises her ugly head.
Elsie: Since I had a lot of treasures and toys I was attached to as a child I’m curious about your kids! I always liked the idea of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s one little box of keepsakes, but I knew I could never fit all my favourite things into a single box! Did you give your kids parameters for how much they could bring on the trailer? How did you help them get to that place of living with fewer personal toys and keepsakes?
Christy: We have a perk in this area—the trailer limits how much they can bring, so the parents are not the bad guys. Parent win!
Even when we had a house, our kids migrated toward the same playthings and activities. We notice what they love in life, and we make accommodations for that, but not for whims or trends. The formerly white bear known as Snowy that has been dragged everywhere for seven years is definitely not going to be left behind, even though the ol’ fella is always in the way. Space is made for Legos, although not all the Legos on the planet. Our baby girl has a baby doll—two baby dolls because her little brother adopted one of hers. They have to choose what’s special—that’s life.
Each child has a container or space of his or her own. They can fill their designated space with whatever they want, as long as it fits easily and neatly, and doesn’t overflow into other areas of life. (That sounds a lot like budget, time, and possession issues that we adults deal with, too, doesn’t it?) We help them choose if they need guidance, asking leading questions, and pointing out what we have never seen them play with. Ultimately, however, the size of their container forces them to answer the big question: what is most important to me?
Their lives are filled with experiences, imagination, good work, and each other more than stuff…just like the Ingalls. Plus, there are enough rocks, sticks, and mud outside the trailer to keep them delighted throughout their childhoods.
Elsie: What are some big areas that you think your family has grown in or changed as a result of downsizing?
In one year our family was “downsized” in the areas of health, security, finances, home, church family, comfort level…did I mention security?
Our daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease the same year we lost our business and home, gave birth to a child with health issues, and hit the road full-time. That dark year plunged us into a valley where the only visible light was Christ, and the only physical hands we could hold onto were each other’s.
That’s not to say other people weren’t hurting for us or reaching out with Christian love, prayers, and help. What it does mean, though, is that the depth of fear, pain, sorrow, and uncertainty of our “downsizing” left matching scars on all of us that will always unite us. My husband calls it being “forged in the fire”; we were definitely forged together.
On a practical level, since we have very little stuff and a lot of us, we spend time together—lots of time. Some days we step on each other’s toes and bark and snap and hiss, but on those days we also apologize and hug (or pat backs for the non-huggers) and call do-overs. There’s no hiding in our life—no hiding behind a door or friends or activities or even books. Everyone is in everyone else’s business, and, harsh as this sounds, we’ve gotta learn to live with it.
Consequently, we’re closer, more patient, more honest, less sensitive to offenses, and more available. We’ve learned (and re-learned) the difference between wants and needs on a deep level. We’ve also become more flexible, appreciative, humble, fiercely loyal, understanding, and, truth be told, just a leeeeetle bit more addicted to old black and white flicks and musicals—I guess that’s what downsizing does to a person.
Elsie: What advice do you have for families who don’t want to live in an RV but still want to declutter their current homes?
People often tell me that I’ve inspired them through our adventures as The Travel Bags to simplify their lives. They then regale me with tales of how they’ve forced their kids to purge their possessions, how their family now hates the words “minimize” and “declutter,” and how the process has become an all-consuming obsession for them.
That is not simplifying, nor is it decluttering. What they’re doing is adding a new idol to their lives. Just like real food, debt-free living, and homeschooling can become idols, so can decluttering and simplifying when you hang your future happiness on the peg of simplification. No no no.
I’ve read the organizing books and the decluttering books and watched with mild amusement as various decluttering bandwagons roll on by. The one simple thing I can ever say to anyone wanting to declutter is a variation of what Flylady asked me for years:
“Does it make you smile?”
That’s it. If it brings you joy, hold onto it. If it doesn’t make you smile, get it out fast (because you’ll probably change your mind when you see it again). Gradually, you’ll realize that some of your must-haves no longer bring you joy, and then it’s their turn to go out into the world and give somebody else joy. I feel like singing a happy little voyage song, don’t you?
I know I said there was one thing, but really there are two. Question one helps you get things out, and question two keeps them from coming back in. Before every purchase, ask yourself this:
“Is it worth the sacrifice?”
Everything that comes in means a sacrifice—money, space, time, people. The nickle and dime purchases might mean more time on the job, which means less time for family. The new items might require more work or be a distraction, which means less time for family. More stuff in the way means more clutter, more stress, less peace, and, yes, less enjoyment of family. Everything brings with it a sacrifice, and too often that sacrifice is the people most important to us.
My personal weakness is projects to do with or for my family (quilting, crocheting, sewing matching clothes for everyone—they would love me forever), or the temptation of the current online mom-craze (Bible journaling, lettering, homemade everything). It’s all wonderful, but isevent all involves stuff, time, money, and space. Is it worth the sacrifice?
For one or two items at a time, we say yes, because life allows for it. Sometimes it’s something obscure, like perfecting egg-cooking skills (yes, really) or achieving pork chop perfection (a skill I’ve since lost, so don’t come to dinner on pork night). Sometimes it’s something we might try for a season and declutter later, like sculpting or tennis. Sometimes it’s a life skill or talent that will be used again and again, like sewing or pitching the perfect snowball—vital survival skill. And sometimes it’s something that demands permanent room in our lives and deserves it, based on the gifts God has given various members of our family, like music, art, and writing.
No more files full of somedays. Someday is today, and the rest of our want-to-dos go on a list that can wait until today is over…or until we can talk Daddy into it, like a cello and a great Dane in the trailer.
Elsie: How else does your family live simply, besides not owning many possessions?
We have a pretty low-key attitude about life. That doesn’t mean we don’t work as hard as possible to excel in certain areas, such as the music mission and our daughter’s art business. It also doesn’t mean we don’t do anything exciting, like a three-day hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon or intentionally planning our route to hit every state.
What that means is we find joy in the simple things in life. “Joy in the Journey” is the name of the theme song my husband wrote about our family, and those words pretty much sum up our life theory.
What does that simplicity look like? After the crowd has cleared from one of our events, our kids will often be found swing dancing with each other, playing duets, making up songs—whatever! They get excited over popcorn, homemade chocolate, and an old musical (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a favorite). While we love to go to live theater and don’t grumble about a nice meal out, we are content with, no, we delight in the little things in life. Our favorite activity is “hanging out” and our favorite group to “hang with” is each other.
Every child will press his face to a toy store window and drool…just like me in a bookstore or the kitchen department or flipping through a book of homes for sale. The simple mentality doesn’t come naturally and needs to be fostered in a child, particularly when our younger kids spend extra time with children who have been a bit more blessed materially, whose lives are filled with activities, or who haven’t yet learned not to point out to my kids that we basically live in a vehicle.
Some days a child is assigned a little extra time with mom working on a gratitude list. Often we put into perspective what our family would have to sacrifice for the stuff or activities that look enticing in other people’s lives. Usually, we simply keep life joyful and special in our simple ways. Every day I remind myself that my calling as a Christian does not entitle me to stuff, but it does require me to focus outwardly.
In the same way, I’ve had to repeatedly simplify our homeschooling, my blogging pursuits, and my own goals. Every time I reach for a new level in the blogging world or sign an article-writing contract with a magazine or tack on a new subject at school, I have to step on something else to get there. That might be family time, one-on-one kid time, husband time, happy-mommy-making time (aka sleep). Is it worth it? Everybody has to ask themselves that question, but more often than not, that answer in my life is no.
Elsie: How has traveling the country and spending time outside enriched your world?
1. The people. We have met people from all walks of life. We’ve broken bread with families whose poverty is beyond what most Americans can fathom, and we’ve rubbed elbows with people whose pocketbooks are surpassed only by their hearts, but who live humble lives of service to others. We’ve made friends with recovering addicts, abuse victims, immigrants, and people planning their own funerals. We’ve sat in awe of humble folks who dedicated their lives to loving other people’s unwanted children and society’s outcasts. We’ve met remarkable humans who put us to shame in what they have sacrificed for others and for their Savior. And we’ve met the opposite.
Everyone likes to think of themselves as being open-minded and understanding toward the needs and situations of others. Once you’ve been to 49 states, sat face to face with those “others,” and listened to their stories, you realize how closed-minded and ignorant you really are.
2. Creation. The beauty of our nation is without bounds! We have been blessed to see some of the most remarkable parts of this country, and some of the worst. It gives us an appreciation for the land itself, the One who created it, and what the land provides us.
Perhaps our favorite thing to do is to boondock out west. That means we pull over on government land, set up camp, and there we stay, no power, no internet, totally disconnected from the rest of the world. It takes a little while for us (yes, even us) to disconnect from this electronic age, but it’s worth it. This sounds corny, but we rediscover our ability to think, breathe, and communicate without a phone in hand and a blog post or music mission newsletter in mind. It’s cheaper than therapy—everyone should do it.
Elsie: Besides helping your family downsize, what are changes you’ve personally made to simplify and streamline your life and focus on your priorities?
I have been in a 17-year process of simplifying my life. I don’t obsess about it, but I am on the alert for anything that will distract me from my main priorities. There are numerous wonderful distractions out there, but I have to weigh each one according to what I’m giving up on the other end. It’s pretty similar to how we think about items that come into our trailer—this game looks fun, but we’d have to get rid of Pit to make room, and the hilarity that Pit invokes is not worth sacrificing for the potential fun of the new game. Does that mean we miss out on some new experiences? Of course! But it also means we don’t miss out on each other. (Plus new experiences don’t seem to be lacking in our lives.)
I’ve had to think in a similar fashion about blogging and my online empire. It’s not really an empire—it’s a sandhill that I sometimes stand on, and my little guy says that I’m king. That’s close enough to an empire most days. But when I see other bloggers replacing their husband’s income and getting book deals and racking up higher and higher numbers, bloggers that started out pretty much the same time as I did with The Simple Homemaker, I get a little…antsy. It takes about three words from my husband to bring me back to my current reality in a state of mostly-contentment. (Mostly-contentment means I still write books under the covers when everyone is asleep.) Those three words are: You chose kids.
That in no way means that others can’t have their cake and their kids, too. What it means in my life is that I am not capable of parenting eight children aged 2-20 in their various stages of neediness or independence, maximizing our time together, sweet-talking my husband, enjoying relatives, supporting the music mission, homeschooling, feeding my family in a way that supports our Crohn’s daughter’s health, and still blogging and writing enough to make it a full-time career.
No, that’s not true. I am capable; I’m not willing. That level of busyness on a consistent basis is the opposite of what I have achieved through simplifying. I know it’s generally only for a season, but that is a season I could never get back, and seasons go by all too quickly. While I do continue my blogging, sell articles, and am writing a book, it comes second…or third…or maybe fifth, which is where it belongs.
A huge aspect of my simplifying, which is an issue for most people, is consistently working on increasing my efficiency and cutting back on those things that make a person feel busy and important but are really time wasters in disguise. They’re deceptive little imps that keep sneaking in and stealing time—I have to kick them out before they snatch away irretrievable moments. Evil little stinkers.
And before you think I’ve got it all figured out, I leave you with this quote from Five-Minutes-Ago Me:
“Hey, can you guys all please stop talking to me so I can finish writing this? Plus please bring me chocolate.”
Yup. Real life.
Do you want to share your own take on living simply and intentionally? Email me at [email protected]. We’ll chat a bit about your unique situation, and then I’ll send you a list of interview questions!