Words by Britany Robinson, AD Clever
I won’t lie to you: I love knickknacks. A vintage candle holder. A wine bottle holding a single flower. A pile of books. I love to curate these pieces into the narrative of my living space. Thrift stores make me giddy with possibilities. But then I got a van. Dreaming of living a mobile life, I bought a 1986 GMC Vandura with a bench that slides into a bed and a kitchen cabinet with storage for some basic necessities.
I gave it a pared-down knickknack treatment, knowing that #vanlife wouldn’t be about stuff; it would be about experiences. (Also, because I couldn’t help myself.) Vans on Instagram always have a smattering of accessories to make them look ready for a magazine shoot. Hanging plants in a moving vehicle? Why not!
On my first van trip, every item I brought with me clambered about as I drove, threatening to roll or to even fall and break. It was very stressful. For now, my van is my weekend escape vehicle, but someday it might be a more regular mobile home. But it’s already taught me some important lessons about simple living and the very small amount of crap that I need to be comfortable.
Having fewer clothes saves you a ton of time
I used to waste at least 15 minutes trying on different outfits before heading out the door each morning. But in my van, fashion crises are avoided because I don’t have enough options to incite indecision. I also don’t have a mirror, which helps. Instead, I have a few pieces of clothing that I always bring with me because I know I love them and they’re easy to mix-and-match. I’ve started to apply this outfit approach to my everyday life when I’m not living in the van: getting rid of clothes I never wear and purchasing items I love enough to wear over and over again.
Trading space for experiences is always a win
My weekends in the van are spent largely outside of the van; reading in coffee shops or hiking in the woods. I love every square inch of my tiny home on wheels, but I don’t want to be in it that often. I can’t walk more than a couple steps around the inside of my van, so living in it makes me regularly get out and move my legs, breathe fresh air, and engage with whatever new place I’ve landed in. I’ve discovered things I wouldn’t otherwise, like a diner that stocks my favourite magazines and a little park where my dog can play in a river. Smaller homes and apartments will propel you outside in the same way.
Less stuff makes it easier to unwind (for real!)
Last weekend, I slept at a rest stop with idling trucks grumbling just outside my curtained windows. It was one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in weeks. One reason for that is because I had blissfully little else to do: The van doesn’t have a sink full of dishes to wash, or junk drawers I’ve been meaning to organize for weeks. Sure, my dog occasionally tracks mud into the bed, but there isn’t much I can do about that. When I get back to my van at night, there’s no responsibility beyond opening a book and relaxing into a big pile of blankets. By clearing out some of the junk that requires attention at my house, I’ve been able to capture more of this relaxation time there, too.
Unplugging does wonders for your sanity
I’m not immune to social media-scrolling from the van, but it does make me conscious of how much time I spend on my devices. I try to conserve the battery on my phone when I’m on the move. And once I’m back in the van, I keep my charging station out of reach from the bed.
Here’s a secret: The social media curation of #VanLife might look like one big adventure. But sometimes it’s boring. Which is a good thing! Boredom is something most of us avoid these days by watching Netflix or opening whatever app will consume our consciousness for 30 seconds. In the van, I actually sit with my own thoughts and nothing to look at but the knickknack-free surfaces of my tiny space (or go outside and do a real activity, as mentioned). It’s made me feel more clear-headed, and I’ve been able to bring that back home to foster a simpler life both on and off the road. Maybe those #VanLifers are really on to something—or, rather, maybe they’re on to the power of nothing at all.
Featured Image: Mroux Bulikowska, Unsplash