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Fern (Frances McDormand) drives around America in her van. Left jobless when the plant in her town shut down, she lives a nomadic lifestyle. When someone asks if she's homeless, she denies it, saying she's houseless, which isn't the same thing. Formerly a teacher, she goes to a job placement center, but they tell her to consider early retirement. Fern doesn't want that. She wants to work, to keep busy and feel useful. She gets a job packing boxes in a warehouse for a time, then moves on to the next town and job, doing whatever she can. Along the way, she meets many new faces, including other nomads, and many beautiful sights.