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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Applying the Zen of Simplicity to Moving Into a Van

Simplicity. Streamlining. Organization. Minimalism. If you've read my blog for very long, these buzz words are repeated again and again, ad nauseum. Sorry about that, but that's the way it goes. I believe it's a requirement for vandwelling. Why?

When you live in a basic apartment, your floor space is around 500 square feet, with a 10 foot high ceiling. When you live in a van, your floor space is around 50 square feet, with maybe a 4 and a half foot high ceiling. Apartment interior volume is 5,000 cubic feet; van interior volume is a paltry 225 cubic feet. Compared to your apartment, a van has only approx. 5% of the interior volume to contain the belongings you need to function. Only 5%! So, you've got to get rid of a lot of stuff. But how?

Like most people, you've probably spent a lifetime obtaining furniture, electronic gizmos, cooking/dining stuff, clothes, and so on. We are conditioned from birth that the acquisition of belongings is key to the pursuit of happiness. Well, it certainly creates happiness to the companies that make and sell stuff. But, it creates more expenditures for you to purchase, store, maintain, insure and protect this plethora of belongings. Do we own the stuff, or does it own you?

The shedding of unnecessary belongings is key to minimalist simplicity, especially when vandwelling. Unless you can store this stuff for little or no money, it doesn't make sense to keep it. There is no room, it won't work, it won't fit; so it's got to go somewhere. I'm lucky because I have lots of free storage options at my folks, family and friends. I've got boxes and furniture stored all over. But, for the most part, you and I should probably just sell/give away what we don't really use any more.

When I first approached the fining process of moving into my van, I tried to do it from the top down. In other words, I looked over the stuff in my apartment to see what could work. It was overwhelming 'cuz there was so much stuff I wanted to have/keep. This method was not working. Instead, I went out and sat in my van and began to visualize.

I temporarily forgot about all the stuff in the apartment and focused on the van interior. I created some short lists of what I needed to live in the van. Clothing, bedding, toiletries, food basics and van maintenance were the important categories. Some categories had seasonal considerations, like clothing. For the moment, I ignored entertainment because I live in a minivan, space is a premium and entertainment is a luxury, not a requirement. I created a simple layout, which would define storage capacity and systems necessary for cooking, cleaning and clothing. I filled out the short lists, so I could define specifically what I could get by with. Later, when these requirements were met, I could evolve or add to suit my personal wants and needs. But at least, I had a starting point.

Armed with the lists defining what was needed in the van, I went back into the apartment. Wow. Look at all the shit I have. This is what happened.

1/ Furniture - Almost guaranteed, 99.99% of the furniture you have won't work in the van. It won't fit, it doesn't incorporate storage in it's design, it's the wrong shape. Sometimes people use an old couch or hide-a-bed in their larger cargo vans. But then there's no storage underneath, and it takes up a lot of valuable space, only you can decide what right for you. Maybe a small side table or small bookshelf can be used, but remember that most van walls are curved on the sides, so placement is key. In my minivan, all my furniture was not applicable. So, it had to be stored, sold or gave away.

2/ Electronic gizmos - Television, home stereo, desktop computer and printer, microwave and so on. Anything that operates on 120 Volts AC is non-operational in your van, unless you have shore power, or a generator/house battery system. Even then, these items are usually too big and not very power efficient for van based systems. You might be able to use some of it, but that depends on where you live/park your van, ie. access to continuous/occasional shore power. If you need this stuff in your life, you will probably be looking at new systems, which are designed for vans. For me, my van interior didn't have the layout or space for using any of this stuff, so I stored, sold or gave it away. The computer system I set up at my parents' place, I'm there almost weekly because they need my help.

3/ Cooking/Dining wares - Pull out everything from the cupboards, and probably 80-90% of what you have, you won't need anymore. There's too much, it's too big, you won't be having 6 people over for dinner, and so on. But, you will have some key things for a minimal kitchen setup, so you use what works. The rest, store, sell or give away.

4/ Clothing - For the van, I have a set of clothing I use year round, which covers basics for both work and play. I have two subsets of seasonal clothing, one for the warmer season and one for the cooler season. I don't have the room to keep it all in the van, so I store the out of season clothing subset somewhere else. What works for you, only you can decide.

5/ Everything else - If it doesn't fit, or work within, store, sell or give away. You have only so much space to work with, so you can only do what you can. For me, I store my guitars at my friends' studio (keep one acoustic in the van); I go to a gym and hike for exercise, gave away my bike (no room); books are kept to a minimum and rotated (stored if kept or given away and library).

Store, sell or give away. Only 10% or so of what you had before, you will be able to use when in the van, so reduce, reduce, reduce. You can always add more later, as your new lifestyle evolves. Because of space restrictions, only items which are functional, spatial and of importance will work out.

Unless you can store items for free, you are paying a premium on their worth. Unless the item is irreplaceable because of sentimental or collectible reasons, it may be false economy to store things for a long time. A friend of mine has had a storage locker for ten years, and for $10k worth of stuff, he has paid out over $10k in storage fees; a poor decision I think. You may lose some money now, by selling something cheaply, but you can always get similar replacement items later.

Reorganize and streamline. As you move into the van, your daily routines and possessions will evolve into what works. As you morph into a modern nomad, streamline these routines and possessions into just what you have to do and need. Then you are free to be your new self, a vandweller.


rishio said...

I actually have a lot of gizmos in my car. I have a surround sound stereo system. I've got lots of movies, purchased and rented, which I can watch on my movie player. It hooks up into my surround sound system and plugs into my car battery for power if needed. I have quite a few books. I've got one of the best cell phones. Got a computer for browsing the web or checking/replying to email. I've got a gps mapping system which prevents me from getting lost. And much much more...

Infact, all this stuff is in one device that fits in my pocket. It's called the iPhone. Audiobooks, movies, podcasts, cellphone, web browser, facebook, email, games, radio, ebooks, music, plugs into my stereo for surround sound and charge and same time, gps with mapping, and more..

I try not to get attached to materialistic things - but the iPhone and my Honda Element are two items I'm attached to!

urban vandweller said...

Hi, Rishio - While all that stuff works for you, my system isn't setup for that trip. I have a cell phone - it works. I have a van stereo, a hand-crank radio, and a battered acoustic guitar. I have been using desktop computers when I browse/email/publish, etc. - but I'm going to break down and get a wifi'd laptop. I don't want clutter in my zone - either physical or cerebral. iPhone just came to Canada, but, the cellular plans here suck. I just have a slightly different path, that's all.

Cheers, Urban Vandweller