An Airstream, A Dream, And The Open Road: A Lesson In Minimalism

HealthyWay Senior Lifestyle Editor Maggie talks with Lauren and Jamie Eichar about minimalism, Instagram, and staying healthy in 160 square feet.

Disclaimer: Just so you know, if you order an item through one of our posts, we may get a small share of the sale.

If you want to talk minimalism, talk to Lauren and Jamie Eichar. After getting rid of nearly everything they owned, they moved into a 160-square-foot vintage Airstream and have been traveling around the United States in it since January 2018. Let’s back up a bit. I first learned about the Eichars from stalking their Instagram. They are professional wedding photographers, so these small glimpses into their lives do look pretty Pinterest-perfect. The pictures of their Airstream (which was designed, built, renovated, and named June(!) by The Modern Caravan) have the neutral color palette and natural afternoon lighting down pat. Their whole feed looks perfectly curated. At first glance, you might think: Who are these perfect people? Nobody lives like that. Well, actually, the Eichars do live like that. And if you read the captions of their ‘grams, you’ll start to notice that they’re doing more than just posting pretty pictures. In the age of sponsored partnerships and constant #ads, they’re also writing about the stuff that a lot of people aren’t—things like maintaining a photography business on the road, what they still own (and things they still want), the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship, and how they really feel about social media. Hearing Lauren and Jamie describe their lifestyle made me think about what I post on social media. My Instagram is mostly pictures of my daughter, but I’m definitely guilty of taking dozens of photos (of my food, myself, a random window—you name it) to get that just-right shot, which completely takes me out of the moment. At this point, most of us know that what we choose to share on the internet shapes how the world sees us, and eventually it can start to shape how we see ourselves too. The Eichars recognized this in themselves, so they’ve made different choices: to live small and slow and to document the good and bad things as they see fit instead of constantly staging moments for photo ops. Jamie and Lauren also talk a lot about minimalism. That concept is, for all intents and purposes, foreign to me. I love how Scandinavian living rooms look on Pinterest, but putting minimalism into practice has never felt doable (or desirable) for me. I’ve been called a packrat several times since childhood. I hang on to notes, doodles, receipts, and books I’ll never read again. I indulge in retail therapy regularly. The floor of my room usually looks like a Forever 21 dressing room after Black Friday. I own a few too many throw pillows. I’m more of a maximalist, but thanks to how the Eichars share their lives, it starts to feel a little more attractive—and attainable. The Eichars don’t just see minimalism as an aesthetic; for them, it’s more than just getting rid of a certain number of things in a certain amount of time or creating a precious, unlivable space that looks like it came from a catalog. Instead, their minimalism focuses on making intentional choices about possessions, plans, and people. Their version is about living in the moment, embracing the (itty-bitty) space they’ve created, and making time for the people who matter most, no matter where they are in the world or how many Instagram followers they have. It’s about getting rid of the unnecessary, whether that’s a physical item or the impulse to win the rat race. Of living in a beautiful Airstream and photographing the lesser-seen parts of our country, Jamie says, “We recognize that this lifestyle is often perceived to be about the adventure, living the dreamiest life, and moving from one cool thing to the next. That’s not what it’s about for us.” I talked to them about all of this—what it is about for them, including living slow, focusing on each other, and the lessons they’ve learned. As in their Instagram captions, they were delightfully honest about all of this (and more). This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

What led you to sell all of your things and live in an Airstream?

Jamie: Lauren and I had been exploring minimalism as an idea for a while and slowly purging things from our life. We focused on getting rid of anything that felt unnecessary to our experience. If it didn’t serve a purpose or bring a sense of joy to our life, why keep it? The obvious fear is that each thing we purchase has value and gets attached to our lives in a way that we don’t even realize we are holding on to. Most of the time those things are just cluttering up our space mentally and physically. So this practice of getting rid of our things was about shedding the feeling of having our identities attached to the things we own. Lauren: We became more clear on what’s important. For us, living in an Airstream is about experiencing, learning, and growing as people. When Jamie and I started talking about changing our lives a year ago to live a more fulfilling life, I was in a place where I was ready to say yes to living tiny. I had let go of the things in my life that were holding me back before. Jamie: We knew we wanted something different from the average life. It’s so easy to get sucked into what is safe and comfortable. Being self employed, becoming minimalists, and already knowing what it is like to spend so much time together, it seemed like a natural next step to try living this lifestyle. Lauren: As we talked through options of living tiny or living in a mobile home, we followed our favorite Airstream renovators (The Modern Caravan) on Instagram and got extremely lucky with the timing that they decided to sell their own home. We put a deposit down on June and did one last huge garage sale to pare down. Jamie: We were scared, but when the perfect Airstream came up for sale, we couldn’t hold back. We took the leap and jumped in head first.

How do you maintain fewer possessions as time goes on?

Lauren: I’ve gotten in the habit of paring down my items often. I look at my stuff in categories: clothing, sports equipment, kitchen, games, office supplies, photography equipment, camping gear, crafts, and decorations. I’ll go through each category of items every few months or so and make sure that we still love and use everything in that group. Jamie: As time goes on, just like in everyone’s life there are moments where you feel like you don’t have enough. Our whole lives we have been trained to fill our sense of lack with buying objects. That feeling doesn’t just go away as soon as you get rid of things in your life … Because the space we live in is so limited, we just can’t buy any more things unless we get rid of something. We really have to face the reality of what is going on. We aren’t buying something because we need it, we are buying something to fill a void that we are not enough as we are. Being forced to face that feeling, we have learned to look at the parts of us that would normally be hidden behind buying things: lack of self-worth, feelings of not knowing who we are, feelings of not feeling loved. As we face those feelings and embrace who we are with a sense of gentleness, the need for things starts to dissipate and the yearning to work on our self-awareness, selflessness, and growth as human beings starts to become our focus.

What was your biggest fear before making the jump? How do you feel about those anxieties now?

Jamie: My biggest fear before jumping into this life was the unknown. Any big change like this, you don’t know what it will actually be like until you do it. I was fearful of the simple logistics of it. How do you tow a 27-foot Airstream? What truck do we need? How do we find campsites that work for us? Will this lifestyle be too expensive for us? What happens when something breaks? What is it like to live and be in 160 square feet? All those questions swirl around until you’re really in it. Lauren: My biggest fear was around the financial factors of this decision. It’s still my biggest fear. We spent almost six years in St. Louis, establishing ourselves and our business, and left. We now have to figure out how to sustain this lifestyle and support ourselves on the road with our business. It’s a big game of trust-as-we-go. Jamie: Looking back on those fears, I’m happy we were thinking so much about them. As much as I’d like to say it was all dreamy and perfect once we made the leap, it wasn’t. We’ve had to face all those fears head on and there have been some very stressful, tough moments. But no matter what, we have been able to work through them.

What do you miss about living “traditionally”?

Jamie: There isn’t much I miss about living traditionally. The only one that really comes to mind is that we don’t have access to a long powerful hot shower. It sounds silly, but sometimes those long, cozy showers are the best way to unwind after those stressful days. Lauren: The only thing I miss about living traditionally is the bathroom. I miss flushing toilets (now we take care of our own #1 and #2) and I miss spreading out as I shower (not being hunched over and needing to jump out of there quickly). Disclaimer: Just so you know, if you order an item through one of our posts, we may get a small share of the sale.

What are some positives you didn’t expect to gain from this experience?

[noads] Lauren: 1. Jamie and I have grown closer. Because we’re living in a small space, we have to face our arguments right then and there, and there’s no escaping our issues. It feels like we’re more on the same team now than ever before. We both love contributing to this lifestyle and to each other. We go through a lot of hard days together and we go through a lot of amazing days together. All of those days are good for our relationship. 2. The Airstream and RV community is amazing! We’ve made a lot of friends on Instagram and in real life. During our first two weeks with June, our Airstream neighbors in our RV park helped us with everything that was coming up for us or that was new for us. When we post about some challenge we’re having, we get tons of people in the community chipping in with advice or ideas. 3. Falling in love with our country. I didn’t know how beautiful the U.S. was until buying our Airstream. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to take our home wherever we go. We’re finding ourselves in the most stunning locations and just can’t get enough of life on the road. [/noads]

How do you stay healthy in a small space?

Jamie: Staying healthy can definitely be a challenge in a tiny space. Fortunately for us, we have a fully functioning kitchen. We are able to keep most of the foods we would get in our traditional life pre-Airstream. The only sacrifice we made is that we do not have a freezer or microwave, so quick, frozen meals aren’t an option. Probably for the better though. Lauren: Eating healthy is Jamie’s thing. He’s inspired me a lot with his commitment to eating healthy and eating vegetarian. Three years ago I quit drinking soda (I was very addicted to Pepsi), and now I try to just be a little more intentional about what I eat. I’m still a french fry–obsessed human being, so definitely don’t come to me for tips on eating healthy. Jamie: Working out isn’t any more of a challenge than anywhere else; we just have to be motivated, which seems to be the challenge for most of us. But if we are able to get motivated, we have the outdoors to go on a run, do some yoga, or do a bodyweight workout. We definitely don’t do anything workout wise inside the Airstream—it’s too small for anything like that to happen. Lauren: I have been on a grand adventure of learning about self-care recently, and as I read The War of Art and as we talk about a future with a family one day, I get more interested in being a person that fights the resistance in my life. Working out has given me the [opportunities for] self-care that I need to start off my day.

How do you deal with feelings of loneliness or isolation?

Lauren: When I experience loneliness, it hits me really hard. I’m an extrovert and a major people person. Recently I’ve been learning about facing my ego and my pain in a way that helps me work through it rather than fixing it quickly or avoiding it. I do this by letting myself sit with and sit in the feeling of loneliness. I try to allow myself to be lonely and not judge that that’s the feeling coming up for me. I fail at this a bunch, and I end up using Jamie as a crutch to help me by talking it out with him. The moments that I’ve sat with my loneliness have been eye opening for me to learn more about myself and to learn how to love myself with ego and all. This is a topic I could talk a lot more about, but to keep it simple, it’s something I continuously work on and learn from. Jamie: Most times, for Lauren and me, having each other is enough. But we can get on each other’s nerves or end up fighting; you just crave time with other people. We have been pretty intentional about scheduling time in locations where we have friends or family nearby so that we can have that balance in our lives. If we aren’t able to be with others though, just accepting that we feel lonely can be enough to get us through it. That may sound strange, but just allowing something to be allows it to be okay.

How important is community to you? How do you maintain that in a nontraditional living situation?

Jamie: Community for us is important but it hasn’t felt like we’ve been without it. In fact the greater Airstream community on social media has really supported us and we feel the love and connection to them. As far as the other communities in our life, it’s about making sure—even though we are often far away from friends and family—that we stay in touch in whatever way we can. FaceTime and phone calls are a must. Lauren: Community, family, and friendships are very important to us. Living on the road definitely makes me miss everyone back home. It makes me miss my improv comedy group. It makes me miss the soccer girls I coached. It makes me miss our close friends. And most of all, my brother, who recently started living in St. Louis before we left for this journey. We do a good job at staying in touch with everyone and making plans to visit St. Louis or have friends visit us. Although [it’s] hard, it was more important for us to start living this dream of ours than to stay in a place we didn’t feel inspired by anymore. Two months in, and we’ve gained an amazing new community of people on the road.

How has the ability to travel wherever, whenever impacted your worldview?

Jamie: So often we think we have to live according to the rules of society, but in reality this is your life, and you make up the rules. Lauren and I try to look at the rules that have been impressed upon us by school, parents, or society that we live by subconsciously, and if it doesn’t hurt someone, we see if it’s worth shifting how we do something. With that, we try to recognize how privileged we are to be living this life. Making sure we don’t take it for granted and really be present in it is a really important aspect of this experience. Lauren: As we travel, we try to grow and learn from the experiences we have. For example, now when we go to Native American–owned parklands, we’ll try to learn about the history of the land and do our best to respect and appreciate it. We’ve had experiences of visiting gorgeous land with the goal of just getting pretty photos and left feeling icky about the way we experienced that place. Now we’re visiting locations with the goal of being present and being grateful.

What’s your advice for people who want to make travel more of a priority but need to stay rooted to a home base?

Lauren: Keep your dreams and goals in mind as you work, save money, and spend money. When there’s a purpose behind the days you spend at home and the work you do, I believe you’ll be able to get closer to making those dreams a reality. Jamie and I spent six years talking about our dreams together while living in St. Louis. Even though we didn’t know exactly how everything would work out or look, we knew we were inching closer and closer to something that felt more fulfilling to us.

What’s your advice for people who can’t live out of an Airstream but still want to cut down?

Jamie: If you are interested in exploring minimalism and starting to cut out things in your life, my advice is to just start. There are many different methods of minimizing; find one that gives you a few tools and go for it. It’s so easy to look at an idea or concept and get inspired, but often people don’t take action. Go up against your resistance and give it a go. Start with one area of your life and test it out. Minimizing and getting rid of things isn’t something that ends up being right for everyone, but you never know until you try it. [noads] Lauren: 1. Take your time with it and get in the habit of getting rid of things. Marie Kondō, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has you do a big haul in one day, and for me that was helpful, but I needed a few years and few hauls. I got in the habit of getting rid of items about once a month, and by the time we were talking about living in an Airstream, it didn’t feel like such a scary thing to live with much less items in 160 square feet. 2. Be kind to yourself. If you’re not ready to let go of something, there’s nothing wrong with that at all. 3. Get in touch with your feelings around your possessions. Once I started realizing how things I owned made me feel, it was easier to see if the item was actually necessary in my life. Marie Kondō describes this as keeping only what “sparks joy.” 4. Have fun with the process! Minimalism is my passion. It’s become fun for me because I’ve been able to refine my taste and style and get to know myself through the process. It feels refreshing to live with less. [/noads]

What have you learned about yourselves throughout this process?

[noads] Lauren: 1. I’ve learned that I’m better at self-care when I am living a more purposeful/meaningful life. If I’m present enough to take care of myself first before I start the work day or before Jamie and I go off on an adventure, I have a much better day and I can give my all to the day and the work that needs to be done. That’s been a major focus of mine while we’re learning how to set routines in the Airstream. 2. I’m learning that I rely on other people for my happiness. This is something I still struggle with and try to face. I’m able to see how much this is the case with Airstream life because I struggle with loneliness more than I did when living in a city filled with people I loved. 3. I’m much better off working through my issues rather than pretending that they’re not there. I used to do the latter and it didn’t go so well. One example I’m working on is accepting the fact that I can be passive aggressive and really making an effort to tell people how I feel when I’m hurt rather than holding frustration in and hoping that they know that they hurt me. [/noads]

What’s the hardest or the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Jamie: One major lesson that’s worth sharing—that we actually knew before jumping into this life—is the simple fact that living in an Airstream and traveling wasn’t going to solve all of our problems. No matter how perfect something looks on social media, it isn’t actually that way in real life for those people. Yes, we go to beautiful locations and take pretty pictures, but our life and our challenges are the same as they would be anywhere else. We have hard days, we have sad days, we have extremely happy days. Really, if anything, this lifestyle forces you to see where you need to grow and what you need to work on as a person because of how often you are challenged. We’ve come across so many people that want to live this life, and we are always up for encouraging others to go for it. But we also just want to be real about it and share that it can be really hard at times too. Lauren: One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in jumping into Airstream life is that no lifestyle will solve my problems. I’m learning that nothing gets easier or better without facing my ego and facing resistance. There’s no way around that. It’s a constant battle, and the learning and growing doesn’t stop. In a way that lesson is also a beautiful aspect of life. Before moving into June, I was planning on having this life make my insecurities go away, give me motivation to get out of bed, work out, and meditate, start taking better care of myself. These things don’t come easier now. They just are easier to see now that there’s less stuff around and now that Jamie and I have to work though every little thing that comes up because there’s no running away. The opportunities are there for me to work on myself, and that’s both hard and beautiful. If you want to learn more about the Eichars and June, follow them @eichars_explore.

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