Real Life Minimalists: Neens Bea

Every Monday I post Real Life Minimalists, a profile of one of my readers in their own words. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.

This week we have a lovely story from Neens Bea, who reminds us how a minimalist lifestyle leaves us free to embrace opportunities as they arise. Please visit her blog to read more about her experiences.

Neens Bea writes:

Neens Bea

Neens Bea

In February 2012, I had to go home to Norway to clear out all the stuff I had stored in my dad and step mum’s loft – they were downsizing to a smaller house, and would no longer have room to store stuff belonging to my sister and I. As I had to fly there and back, and had to be able to carry my luggage from plane to train and bus, I had to whittle everything down to just a 20 kg bag. It was a tough and emotional job, and I took pictures of everything I donated, recycled or discarded – everything from teddybears and collectible t-shirts, to handicraft made by my grandparents and parents. All my old diaries went up in flames. My mother kindly paid for the postage of sending my photo albums over in the post – three big boxes!

When I got back to my bungalow in Devon, UK, I was inspired by what I had achieved. I realised that it really is a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I went through the house, donating books, unused kitchenware and clothes to charity. I enjoyed the freedom of having less – if you can’t remember that you own something, there really is no point in having it at all.

Just 3.5 months later, my relationship ended. While I pondered what to do with my future, I continued to whittle down my possessions. I would be moving out no matter what. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to go travelling around Europe in a van with my dog.

I sold my furniture, juicers, Vita-Mix, printer, jewellery – everything that might fetch a bit of money. I sold or donated all my books and bought a Kindle. I digitised all my photos, and took pictures of my photo albums before I got rid of them all. Now, all my photos are stored on a tiny USB. I also converted old cassette tapes I wanted to keep to MP3 files, and VHS recordings to DVDs.

I pared my clothes down to a bare minimum – and settled on a colour scheme to ensure everything could be mixed and matched. I sought out bathroom products that could do more than one job.

I used up all the food in the house, both to save money and to help empty the cupboards. I lived without a fridge and freezer for 13.5 months, in preparation for living out of a van with no fridge/freezer. Then I slowly started moving out of the various rooms, to make sure everything I owned would fit in a tiny space, and that I would be happy living that way.

In September 2013, Albert and I left Devon in my van. On our way to Dover we stopped in Surrey to visit a friend. While there, I started getting nervous about the whole thing. I noticed that I kept having to ask my friend to look after Albert when I ran errands or popped into shops. Sure, while in Europe, I could either tie him up outside (except I’m terrified of dognappers) or leave him in the van (but only for a few minutes in the summer heat). Suddenly it dawned on me that although what I was planning on doing can be done, I didn’t want to do it. Not on my own. I would love to go travelling with someone else, but doing it on my own with a dog I love so much I can’t leave him unattended is just not feasible. So I panicked. Then I cried. Then I decided that “there is no shame in turning around” (which fellow Norwegians will recognise as Mountain Rule no. 8).

Then, out of the blue, a friend e-mailed me to say that a friend of hers was moving out of a tiny, fully furnished flat in a tiny village in Devon. She wasn’t sure if I would consider returning to Devon, and she didn’t know if the landlords would allow a dog, but she wanted to let me know just in case.

Well, I’m writing this article from that ‘flatlet’. It is 31.5 m2 (339 sq feet), including stairs and sloping walls. In this Devon village, I have found a wonderful community, made lots of great friends, joined choirs, book groups and music societies… And I would never have been able to move here, had it not been for the fact that everything I own now can fit in my van.

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

45 comments to Real Life Minimalists: Neens Bea

  • What a beautiful story. Dogs can teach us so much about love and the things that are important. Devon is a lovely part of the world too

  • I loved hearing the follow-up to your original story Neems! It is so courageous of you to admit at the last moment, after all that preparation, that this dream of travelling was not right for you at this particular time. I do admire your courage in facing that fact. And I am very happy for you that all the downsizing you did worked out well for you – just in a different way that you had planned. Good for you! And it is also great that village life in Devon is working out so well for you. I imagine that as the flat is so small, that you can keep your expenses down as well, so that is a bonus. Thanks so much for sharing your story – you are an inspiration!

  • Enjoyed reading your story and hearing about the progression of letting go of the unnecessary stuff in your life. Glad the place in Devon opened up for you :) Look forward to checking out your blog.

  • Kim

    I loved reading your story. You have really inspired me to reduce all my accumulated stuff. Good luck with your life in Devon.

  • Alix

    Thanks for sharing your story, Neens!

  • E

    Was Your dog able to stay in the flat too?

    • Hi E, yes he was. My landlords say he is so quiet that they forget there is a dog living above them. There are excellent dog walks in the area too, so we hope to be able to stay there for many years to come! :-)

  • Tina

    I am happy for you. The nomadic life isn’t for all of us. I keep finding things to give away and hope to have very little when I’m done. I don’t want to be climbing on a step stool when I’m 75 so my plan is to use only the lower cabinets.

    • Thank you so much, Tina! Using the lower cabinets only is a good plan – I’m quite short and used to have to climb up on the kitchen worktops to reach stuff on the top shelves. My flatlet has sloping ceilings though, so there are no wall-mounted cupboards – perfect for me! :-)

  • Such a beautiful story. I can’t wait to read your blog!

  • Carolyn

    I’d love to see pictures Of your “flatlet”…and your village.

  • Sarah

    Great story! Very inspiring. I have a van and a big part of me would like to be able to live out of it, even though it’s quite a small one. What model is your van? Thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you so much, everyone! I’m sorry I can’t reply properly, I’m currently staying at a cottage with next to no mobile cover and my previous attempts at commenting have not worked. But to answer a few questions, yes my dog Albert lives in the flatlet with me (he’s so quiet that my landlords forget he’s there!), there are photos of the village on my Instagram account (username neens_bea) and a few photos of the flatlet in my blog post about stuff creep. My van is a Mazda Bongo called Victor, I took one row of seats out to create more space and also make it more fuel efficient. Right, let’s hope I’ll be able to post this comment – fingers crossed!

  • Brian

    “If you can’t remember that you own something, there really is no point in having it at all.” Oh, the truth in this! This happened to us many times when we started to declutter – things we could never even recall buying. Shocking!! We have a dog – a beautiful black Pug – and we have learnt so much from her about minimalism. Dogs require little other than love, food, water, shelter, exercise/playtime: oh, their wonderful simple lives! They love being in nature, too. We adore Devon! Babbacombe and Maidencombe are two of our favourite places in the whole world.

  • denise

    thank you so much for telling your story. i am now following you on instagram and i love your pictures! good luck!


    denisebark on instagram

  • Alison

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. I find it particularly inspiring that you were true to what was important to you and decided to put the travel aside for now because you wouldn’t have been able to leave Albert alone.

    Your life in Devon sounds wonderful; there will almost certainly be another opportunity to travel in the way you want to when the time and circumstances are right for you and Albert.

    • Thank you very much for those kind words, Alison. I am sure we’ll find the opportunity to travel properly in the future, but for now we are content to explore Devon – there is still so much to see! :-)

  • What a great story! When my wife and I moved from the US to Finland last year, we got everything we owned compacted down to two suitcases and a laptop bag each. We sold, gave away, or donated everything we owned, and it took three solid months to go through it all, sort it out, and make decisions. There were things we hadn’t used or even seen in years, and whle some of it provoked nostalgia, most of it simply begged the question of why we’d owned it in the first place.

  • Jen

    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate that you shared realizing that you wanted something different and “turned around.” I am struggling on how much to let go and the direction to take. Maybe it is all part of the journey and I’ll turn around too. First I have to make some of the big steps. You are in inspiration!

    • Thank you so much, Jen. It can be hard to tell which way to go when you’re in the middle of a situation, but in my experience things always work out for the best. Best of luck with your journey! :-)

  • Isn’t it wonderful how things have a way to working out? I think it’s a wise woman who can realize that she wants to do something different in the midst of setting out for something you’d planned for so intensively. Best of luck with your new, more minimal life. It sounds lovely.

  • Nothing wrong with changing the course of our path as needed :-) I wouldn’t be able to do the nomadic lifestyle either but do strive to live in a small uncluttered space (I’m still in progress on my downsizing of possessions). Life is a journey and each part helps to prepare us for what comes up next if we listen to our instincts. I have one suggestion for your photos. Flash drives, hard drives, etc. fail after a certain time period – they are not a permanent stand alone solution. So please backup those photos somewhere-perhaps a cloud platform would work for you.

    Thank you for sharing your lovely story.

    • Thank you so much, Tania! I love what you wrote about listening to our instincts – that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? I have backed up all my photos on Dropbox, which means I can access them from any mobile phone and computer – it is so practical!

  • I love this story Neens. This line says it all: “I enjoyed the freedom of having less – if you can’t remember that you own something, there really is no point in having it at all.” I am slowly doing much of the same, though the books will most likely remain. xxoo

    • Thank you very much, Sue Ann! Books are probably responsible for the biggest share of my stuff creep, it is difficult to resist when you can get them for 50p and the money goes to charity! I give them away once I’ve read them, though – unless I know they are the type of books that I will enjoy reading again and again. :-)

  • I always think it’s so remarkable when the universe seems to recognize where we’re headed before we do and makes accommodations for us. I love how you went about minimalizing your life; such a common sense approach! I also hopped over to your blog and read your “Stuff Creep” post that you linked to — I can sympathize with that. When I last moved, I went from a 4-bedroom house to a 1 bedroom townhouse and got rid of so much clutter. But now, I can feel the stuff creeping back in — time for a cleaning! Thanks for the motivation. :)

  • Good for you for listening to your heart. I always wanted to travel the US in a van, but life has always gotten in the way. Having less stuff gives you SO MANY more options. Thanks for sharing with us.

  • […] started with me being featured as the weekly Real Life Minimalist on Miss Minimalist’s blog on Monday, continued with the most amazing morning walk ever on […]

  • rebecca

    Neens, you are so brave! I love hearing this story and the reality of how long it took you. Thanks for the long version of practicing to live in the van by living “without a fridge” and pairing down your wardrobe as well as having bathroom products do multiple duty. It is no surprise that photos – digital – are your saving grace.

    • Thank you so much, Rebecca! Although I didn’t end up going travelling in my van, my preparations also came in handy for living in a tiny flat. My current fridge is so small that it would have come as a bit of a shock if I had’t got used to living without one!

  • Tina

    We had to change flights coming back from Seattle and ended up taking a different airline, and taking a train from one end of the airport to the other. Since all we had were small carry ons, we could do it. We never check luggage, just take very little no matter where we go.

  • Tina

    My brother wanted to send a box of shampoo, toothpaste, and soap to me. He lives near Philadelphia and I’m near Chicago. I asked him to give the stuff to a homeless shelter or a shelter for battered women. It takes a month for us to use a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo or conditioner takes over a year. Toothpaste lasts 3 months. He’s moving from a huge house to 1200 sq ft and fills his basement with stuff. I try not to keep more than a one month supply of anything on hand. Many people we know have extra freezers and refrigerators but there are always specials and rice, pasta, beans and tea bags keep well on the shelf.

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