This Nomad Will Teach You How to Downsize and De-Clutter Your Life

Nomad Jenn Baxter

Hi, I’m Jenn! I am originally from Maryland and have lived in the Charlotte, NC area since 2006. I am a full time freelance writer and blogger. I also teach online courses and webinars on downsizing/de-cluttering and healthy living, as well as speak at various festivals and fairs on the same topics.

I have written one book about my experience designing and moving into a tiny house, and have another book based on my life story coming out in the next month. I am also just starting to offer de-cluttering services where I help clients all over the country to de-clutter and/or downsize their “stuff” either in preparation for a tiny house or just to make more space in their current one.

Right now, I am in Wilmington, NC, helping a friend with a writing project and wedding planning. But I am jockeying back and forth between Wilmington and Charlotte for the next month for speaking engagements and other obligations. The plan though is to just continue moving wherever life takes me! 🙂

How and why did you become a nomad?

My blog, Live a F.a.s.t. Life, is based on my life story and how a series of traumatic events caused me to view and live life in a whole new way. The short version is, I was in an abusive relationship for several years, suffered the loss of both my parents and ended up with advanced adrenal fatigue as a result. I was forced to slow down and knew from witnessing my mom’s experience, that I didn’t want to end up running out of time before I had actually lived my life or done the things I wanted to do. So, I set out to live a simplified yet fabulous life (both for me and my mom) and decided to pare down my belongings by about 80%, move into a tiny house and start marking things off my bucket list.

Although, the THOW didn’t end up working out (long story, that you can find on my blog) and I was only in it for about three months, I still had the desire to live a simplified and hopefully, mobile life. I wanted to be able to move around freely and live in different places and see the country and eventually, the world. So after the THOW fell through, I didn’t dive right into another one, but focused on my health instead. I stayed in the spare bedroom of a friend for about a year and a half and then when circumstances had me move on, I sort of inadvertently became a nomad!

I have a very strong faith and have always relied on God to give me direction on where to go and at the time, I wasn’t feeling Him move me anywhere specific. Instead, opportunities began presenting themselves one right after the other – to do house sits, pet sits, work with decluttering clients or visit friends & family. So, that’s what I started doing! Just moving from one to the next, with no real permanent place to call home. I know it can sound scary or unnerving to some people, but I actually find it fun and exciting! And I know God always provides a place for me to land. 🙂 I have the small amount of stuff that I kept when I downsized stored in a storage unit back in Lake Norman and then only travel in my VW Beetle convertible with my necessities (clothes, toiletries, work stuff and a little bit of food) and my dogs. I am considering getting an RV or van to move around in, but haven’t pulled the trigger on anything just yet!

Nomad Jenn Baxter

Why is having a nomadic life important for you?

Again, I will reference back to my “F.a.s.t. Life” concept, which stands for Fast, Abundant, Simple and Tiny. Basically, after my mother passed away and I was inspired to go out there and really live my life now (not “later”), I started stripping down and cleaning up my life – got rid of all the excess possessions, cleaned up the food I ate, the products I used and worked through and released a lot of old emotional baggage so I could be free mind, body and soul! And to me, living a more nomadic life is part of that. I don’t want to spend my entire life grounded in one place. That seems like such a waste and frankly, a little boring! 🙂 I want to be able to see and experience as much of the world as possible. And I don’t want to just talk about doing things or dream about doing them, I want to get out there and DO them!

The idea of waking up in a different place every week or month or whatever it is, is exciting to me! And I love how God has used my circumstances so far to line up things that I wouldn’t have ever been able to even think up myself – from reuniting me with old friends to hooking me up with some amazing writing, speaking and de-cluttering opportunities. I also think it is incredibly freeing because you’re not worried about the mundane, “routine” stuff like a mortgage, keeping up with landscaping and home projects, buying the biggest TV or the latest iPhone — it’s just about actually getting out there in the world, having experiences, meeting people and LIVING life!

Nomad Jenn Baxter

How do you finance your nomadic life?

I currently do a mixture of house/pet-sitting jobs (which I mostly find online or through word of mouth) and writing jobs for my freelance clients that I can do from anywhere. I also plan to start traveling to my de-cluttering clients around the country to help them in person, so that will provide additional income as well. I don’t have a monthly budget right now (although I probably should!), but I would say the biggest expense is either gas (if I do a lot of long road trips) or just the monthly expenses for maintaining my blog/online presence.

How do you build a social life as a nomad?

Well, up til now, I have only been traveling around to places where I have friends or family, so I hang out socially with them. I also keep in touch via text message and email, although I am not really big into social media (for personal use, anyway). I don’t really plan to stay anywhere where I don’t know anyone for too long, so I don’t really worry about having to start new, long-term friendships. But I do look to some of the Facebook groups I belong to as a good way to find like-minded people in the cities/areas that I am traveling to.

Nomad Jenn Baxter

How do you deal with non-nomadic people?

I’m not going to lie… I get a strange look or two when I tell people that I don’t really live anywhere. But people are also usually very intrigued by it too. I always get the same questions like, “don’t you get tired of that? What do you do in-between your sits? I could never do that… but it sounds fun for you!” Generally, I just answer whatever questions they have and smile politely. It’s okay if not everyone understands a nomad’s lifestyle. It’s true, it’s NOT for everyone. But I do at least try to share with them how freeing it is to not be tied down to the ideas of a big house, a big car and a big bank account as a measure of happiness.

Where do you live and work as a nomad?

Again, I haven’t traveled too far (yet), so for now, I am staying in either the houses of my pet-sitting or house-sitting clients, which I usually find through sitting websites, or I will purposely schedule to visit friends or family in between sits. When I am working with a de-cluttering client, I will either stay in a spare room in their home or at a nearby hotel. Same with eating… since I am usually staying in someone’s home, I just cook and eat meals as normal in their kitchen. The one thing that is a little more difficult is grocery shopping, because I never want to have a lot to tote around in my car (particularly if it’s refrigerated or frozen), so I can’t really buy a lot. Just enough to eat while I am at someone’s home, and then I either have to leave it or take it with me in my car.

Since I am usually in someone’s home, I also do my work from there. Although, sometimes I will work from a coffee shop or a cafe just to get out. Since all of my writing jobs are remote, it works out well. But the only thing that I’d say can be a little difficult is that I can’t really carry around a lot of files, materials, etc. I try to keep it to only what will fit in my laptop bag with my computer and that’s it. If I do have additional papers or even notes on a whiteboard, I try to snap pictures of them with my phone instead, so I can still have the information with me but no additional physical materials.

Nomad Jenn Baxter

How do you bring your things with you?

Right now, I just move around from place to place in my VW Beetle, with my dogs in the backseat. It works, although I am considering an RV or a converted van because the small space can get a little annoying after awhile. For the most part, I just live out of about four bags: 1 large suitcase, 1 toiletry bag, 1 laptop bag with my work stuff in it and 1 food bag that has my essentials like protein powder, snacks, etc. That’s the good thing about having already downsized — I didn’t have much to work with in the first place! Since I did originally have things that I don’t currently need with me though (like my TV, out of season clothes, kitchenwares and dishes, games, etc.), I do rent a small storage until for about $50/mo back in Lake Norman, since I consider that to be my “home base.” It’s funny because I thought it was freeing for me to downsize into the 160 sf tiny house, but now that I’ve been living essentially out of my car for the last three months, I am realizing I can get by with even less!

My advice would be to pay close attention to what you ACTUALLY interact with on a daily basis. What things do you really use every single day? Make sure you have a way to transport those things with you and then put the rest in storage (or get rid of it!). I have only found myself going back to the storage unit for something maybe once or twice in the whole three months and that’s usually for something very specific – like to pick up my wedding planning kit for my friend’s wedding or a video game controller to play video games with another friend over the weekend. It was nice to be able to go back and grab those things when I need them, but they definitely don’t need to be with me all the time!

How do you organize things in your bags?

I am and have always been, an EXTREMELY organized person, so I definitely plan where everything goes – not only within each bag, but also where the bags go in the car. You kind of have to with a VW Beetle! I currently only carry a limited supply of clothes with me – probably about 6 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs of pants, 10 tops, some pajamas, socks and underwear. I also only have 4 pairs of shoes with me – 1 pair of sneakers, a pair of sandals, a pair of flip flops and one dressier pair of flats. When the weather gets colder, I will have to switch them out with my clothes in storage, but I still plan to only carry a limited number of outfits.

My suitcase is large, so I keep the clothes on one side and my accessories and shoes on the other. Then have a separate plastic bag with handles (that’s about the size of a carry-on) that I carry all of my toiletries in. I keep that organized by keeping the smaller items in small, zippered bags within the larger bag. I also only carry one small notebook, a few papers, my webcam and a mic with my laptop. Otherwise, I try to keep all my other files and notes that I might need for projects in digital form on my computer or phone.

The bigger puzzle is actually organizing everything to fit in the car. Because I do drive a very small car that is not designed for extensive traveling, it is VERY important to put everything in it’s exact spot. I’ve become a bit of an expert at it now! 🙂 The smaller bags go in the trunk, the large suitcase on the passenger seat and the food (mine and the dogs) on the floor in the front where it’s air conditioned. Then the dogs can relax and spread out on their beds in the back seat. Every inch of space is used, but it’s comfortable and it also prevents me from being tempt to bring stuff that I don’t need!

Nomad Jenn Baxter

How do your bags and gear hold up?

Well, I am not carrying sporting equipment or anything like that, so luckily I don’t really need any special bags or gear. I do have a nice camera that I bring with me from time to time, but it has a storage bag of its own. I do however, think that my suitcase is way too heavy and cumbersome! I didn’t originally plan to travel with it full time though, it was just what I had previously. So depending on whether or not I get an RV (where I would store my clothes), I may invest in something lighter! I did also just recently change the bag that I use for toiletries because all of the in-and-out of the car was tending to make some of my products like shampoo or conditioner leak and I had just been using one of those reusable bags you get at the grocery store but that would get soggy. So this new, plastic tote bag is great because I can wipe up any spills or leaks quickly and easily.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

Again, I’m sure you’re talking about technical gear here… but I wish I had my blender from the beginning! 🙂 I make a protein shake every single morning for breakfast, so I always need to have access to a blender. Although, I am usually staying in people’s homes and can hopefully use theirs, I did find a good solution to not having my big Vitamix with me. I invested in a smaller, NutriBullet that does the same job and is a lot easier to move around. I just carry that and a couple of the cups that go with it in a small tote bag and bring that with me when it’s somewhere where I don’t have access to a blender. It’s a lifesaver!

Did you bring too much or too little?

When I originally set out, I had way too much! I had waaaaay too many clothes and also had files from my desk, some books, some food items like oils, spices, etc. and some white boards I used for writing. So I took a trip back to the storage unit and dumped all of that off and minimized to what I have now. It made it much easier to find things in my bags but also made my car much less full and more comfortable for traveling.

As far as recommendations, it’s hard to say because everyone’s experience will be difficult. So I would say the same thing that I tell all my downsizing clients and students – bring whatever works for YOU. Like me and my blender, you need to bring whatever is essential for your specific lifestyle. If you’re a vlogger and you need all your fancy video equipment with you everyday, bring it! If you’re addicted to coffee and you can’t function without it, bring the coffee pot! The point is, don’t try to make decisions based on what you see someone else do. For me, the essentials were my blender, my webcam and mic for webinars and videos, the dogs’ beds so they had somewhere to sleep besides with me, my Bible and devotional books and of course, my pillow. 🙂 But for you, it may be different!

Nomad Jenn Baxter

Why did you bring your dogs?

Pedro and Cc are my two jack russell mixes. I brought them with me because they are like my children and are also my traveling buddies! They have been all over the place with me and are great travelers – they just lay down and snooze on the back seat while mom drives. They also have their own little side windows in the back that they like to hang their noses out of (they are terriers, after all). It actually doesn’t really make travel much more difficult, other than the fact that it’s more difficult to find housing where dogs are allowed. Other than that though, they are easy travelers and I just toss their food, beds and toys in the car and we’re off! The reactions to the dogs can vary… everyone absolutely adores them when they meet them, but like I said, it is more difficult to find places to stay with them. Either because the people don’t want dogs at all or because they already have dogs and don’t know if they’ll get along with mine. So far, we’ve been making it work though! 🙂

What is your best advice for new nomads?

Just get out there and do it! I think a lot of people just put it off, thinking they will have time to do it “later.” When they make more money, when they’re older, when the kids are grown, etc., etc. But the truth is, you never really know how much time you have left! I saw firsthand with my mom, that you can think you have plenty of time “later” to do things you want to do and then time runs out. So my advice would be to stop thinking about it and dreaming about it and just do it!

Downsizing and simplifying your life is a great first step to take toward nomadic life because it helps you detach from “stuff” and realize just how little you need to get by. Plus, the less stuff you have, the less money you need to maintain it. Also, think outside of the box! A lot of people think they can’t be nomads because they’d never have a way to make money, but I’ve heard of people that write lesson plans for homeschoolers and sell them online, or another couple that buys antique maps and ships them out of their RV to customers all over the country. There’s always something you can do and if you can tie it in with a passion or talent of yours… bonus!

Nomad Jenn Baxter

What will the future bring?

Lots of good stuff! My book, Live a F.a.s.t. Life: How Stripping Down and Cleaning Up Gave Me My Life Back will be out soon. I also have two other books that are in the pipeline. I will continue to offer my e-courses online, as well as travel around to speaking engagements at tiny house festivals and healthy living festivals all over the country. Most importantly though, I plan to travel more extensively (hopefully in an RV/van) to see the country, help clients to de-clutter and downsize their homes, and to mark things off of my bucket list!

Follow Jenn on her website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter


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