Mother-of-four Dawn Madsen is passionate about minimalism. Eight years ago, she decluttered, organized, and cleaned out “the stuff” that was weighing her family down. Now, with 85 percent of that stuff cleared away, Dawn understands the freedom that comes with letting go and keeping personal belongings in their proper place.
She’s become a YouTube influencer and author to spread these liberating tips and tricks, but despite the time commitment of writing books, making videos, and being a wife and mother, her family still makes time to explore in their camper.
Here we chat with Dawn about traveling with kids, why great sleep during travel is so important, and why minimalism has given her family more opportunities to make spontaneous trips, see the country, and hit the open road.
On falling in love with camping:
Growing up we didn’t have a lot of extra money but my dad loved to take us on adventures. He’d say, “We’re not going on vacation, we’re going on an adventure!” And so throughout my childhood we would travel from Minnesota where we grew up to all of the national parks: to Glacier and Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains. And at that time we were camping in tents!
On trading tents for campers:
I remember as a kid camping in a tent during a thunder and lightning storm. We were in the Black Hills in South Dakota. It felt like we were surrounded by lightning because we were so high up. And it was so cold. The next morning we went to Walmart to buy extra socks and blankets because it was just freezing. It made for a good story, but soon after, we upgraded from tent camping to a pick-up camper. We were out of tents and sleeping on cushions. We thought we had hit the big time.
We took that camper all over the country. We brought very little with us, but just to see the incredible parks and all the incredible scenery—those are my favorite childhood memories.
On family-time on the road (with grandparents!):
Camping was always about being together as a family. We grew up on a farm and so my parents worked very hard. It was great because we could often go with our parents to do farming things, but when we were on vacation, we had our parents undivided attention, and I always loved that about traveling with them.
Our kids want to spend time with their grandparents, and so it’s fun that they introduced me to a love of camping and now they are introducing our kids to camping as well. Although, I have to say, I think our kids are pretty spoiled with the campers we have now!
On staying minimal with four kids:
When we travel, we have limits on how much stuff the kids can pack. They each have a plastic bin that they pack their clothes into, and those tuck under the dinette. And they bring one backpack-worth of activities, games, and toys. We give them boundaries, and then they work out what they want to take with them. If they have a stuffed animal, it has to fit in their backpack.
On championing minimalism:
Last year I wrote “How to Declutter Your Home in 15 Minutes a Day.” It was well received. It’s a compilation of all of my favorite minimalism tips, tricks, and ideas. The book takes you room-by-room through your house to declutter, organize, and simplify.
On simplifying for a more spontaneous life:
I love that as we have simplified our house, it makes traveling easy (even last minute trips!) because I don’t feel that I need to first clean the garage or organize the attic or deal with an overflow of toys and junk. My house is in order, so we can take off. We often take last minute trips to go visit Tom’s family or go camping with friends, and it’s so much easier to do because our house is simplified.
On raising kids with less stuff:
It’s great that our kids are raised knowing that they don’t need a lot of stuff. They don’t need toys to facilitate play. We don’t bring much with us because we know that there will be tons for them to explore. And so they need very little to occupy themselves because we’ve cultivated their imagination at home. They just jump out of the truck and are ready to play as soon as we get there.
On what they’d redo about their reno:
When we renovated our first two campers, we didn’t think we were adding that much weight, but every now and then a YouTube commenter would say, “Oh, you probably shouldn’t put a vinyl plank floor in. That’s too much weight.”
We just thought, “Oh, it’s a small space.” But then we did a weigh-in before and after for our second camper. To start it was 5,500 pounds—but afterwards it was 6,500 pounds! We added 1,000 extra pounds when we thought we were being conscious of the weight. When we redo our campers in future, we will be more aware of any additional weight!
Their RV Mattress:
The mattresses that come with an RV are so disappointing. It is remarkable that you can spend a fair amount of money on your camper, and yet their mattresses are horrible. We were at a dealership once, and I pressed down on a camper mattress and I thought, “This is terrible.” And the salesman noticed and said, “Yeah, every camper comes with a cheap mattress.”
We upgraded all of our mattresses, including the kids mattresses, because when the kids sleep well, they aren’t crabby the next day. For the small investment it took to upgrade the mattresses with RV Mattress, it was worth every single penny. And we will do that in every camper moving forward.
On whether they will ever RV full-time:
We have definitely flirted with the idea of going full-time camping, even if just for a year or two, to show our kids all the different areas of the U.S. and all the cool things I got to see growing up. But summers in Minnesota are incredible. We enjoy being here for the summer, but I can see our winter trips becoming longer and longer. We’ve already gone from two weeks to four weeks to six weeks, and so I think we will continue to extend our winter trips while planning to be home in the summers.
On a memorable and trip-saving stranger:
This past March, we were coming home from Texas through the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. We decided to take a scenic byway. When we turned onto the byway, there were creeks flooding over parts of the road. About an hour in, we needed gas, and we had to just keep moving forward because the last gas station we passed was hours away.
But then the road went through an actual river. We are sitting there trying to decide what to do, and then we see someone in a truck drive across the river towards us. The water was up to the truck’s running boards. The gentleman stopped and said, “I’ve been crossing this river for 80 years.”
We had a similar truck to his, so he was sure that we could get across. We decided to go for it. We made it across, we got gas, and we’ve been telling that story ever since.
On the difference camping makes:
It’s a huge gift to be able to take the time to get away and be in nature. It is the thing that restores my soul the most. Just to get out in nature, turn off the cellphones, have family time together, build a fire, hike, and see new things. It is absolutely our favorite way to spend our down time.
I wish everyone could experience the benefits of camping. It’s different from staying in a hotel. And everyone at the campgrounds are so friendly and so willing to help. It just makes the whole experience so awesome. So, I hope everyone gets to experience camping at some point in their lives.
Thank you so much Dawn for speaking with us! We’re sure our readers will find your content as inspiring as we did.