“Why did you decide to live in a van?”
This is obviously the question that I get asked the most (other than where do you poop). After all in today’s society, living in a van is not ‘normal’. We live in a society that considers a big house filled with lots of things, a fancy car and trendy clothes as symbols of status or success. In fact in most parts of the world it would be considered quite ‘weird’ or extreme to live in a vehicle. When someone asks why I live in a van my answer is usually “How much time do you have?”. There are of course several reasons I decided to sell my stuff and my home to live in a van…but basically here are the top three:
Reason 1: A desire to reconnect with nature (and live in the present moment).
Indulge me in a quick history lesson. Humans are all just highly evolved animals. Hominids have been around for about 6 million years while we only started to become civilized around 5,000-40,000 years ago. It’s clear to see that in the grand scheme of time we haven’t been civilized for very much of our existence. We are still animals and we still have our innate animal instincts and impulses. We still have our inherent inclinations toward immediacy and our need for both certainty and uncertainty. These primal needs aren’t being met in a society that represses virtually every impulse and instinct with cultural constructs. We have essentially traded that uncertainty and immediacy for certainty and technology. The clearest moment in time where we can easily see this shift is in 1492. Columbus landed in North America and brought thousands of years of European society and technology to the continent and the native people who were already here living happily. The Native Americans had largely been isolated from the rest of modern civilization for thousands of years via the end of the ice age and Bering land bridge. An argument could be said that the Native Americans were much happier than even the people in present day America. They lived in the present, in a cohesive community; They consumed only what they needed, in symbiosis with the land, plants and animals around them.
I have noticed that people today are always searching for the next thing to make themselves happy. They are medicating themselves with food, drugs, alcohol, toys and technology to dull and suppress their primal urges for immediacy and presentness. The easiest way to do this is to return to nature and escape the constructs of society for as long as possible. Most people can only escape for a weekend and they do not go far enough into nature to truly experience a reconnection with their primal self. The longer you are in nature, the longer are you are away from society and technology the better you will feel. What we need is a break from certainty and to live in the present, nature is the best conductor. I wanted to use the van as a vehicle both literally and metaphorically to get me away from distraction of cities, civilization, technology, society and get me as close as possible to nature and wilderness. I typically park at a trailhead and backpack into the wilderness for several days at a time. The longer I am in nature the better I feel.
Of course a complete return to the ways of the Native Americans or hunter gatherers is probably never going to happen again and I fully understand that I take advantage of technology in my life, the van and all my camping gear. I haven’t given up my main means of acquiring money and I currently have no plans to move into the woods and become Thoreau 2.0. My goal is simply to spend as much time as I can disconnecting with civilization and society and connecting with nature and wilderness. I am only proposing that the more time you spend in nature and away from cities / society / civilization / technology or whatever you want to call it, the happier you will be in a truly primal sense. John Muir put it best, “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” Our time on Earth is short and you should spend it however you personally see fit.
Reason 2: A strong connection with minimalism (and need to challenge myself to push further).
This ties in to reason one in a big way. Minimalism at its core is living with what is only truly necessary. By having less things it allows you to begin to focus on what you need rather than what you want. Things that you need are usually obtained first while things that you want are usually desired until you get them. By desiring things you are living in the future and the goal is to live in the present. Once you have that thing you desire, you will typically begin to want something else because the previous thing didn’t fill an actual need. This is the conundrum of the construct of modern society. Media and marketing feed these fabricated desires and these desires only perpetuate the system that fabricates them…and so the cycle goes. We work jobs we don’t like for things we don’t need, but society has told us we need. The goal with minimalism is to truly try to live in the present and focus on the immediacy of actual needs. Spending less time trying to acquire the non-necessities can free you up to spend time on activities that allow you to live in the present with immediacy in this temporary life.
It turns out that moving into a van is an excellent way to practice ‘minimalism by necessity’ or ‘necessity by necessity’. Living in a van clearly provides a limited amount of space and resources, and forces the inhabitant to think long and hard about what is truly needed. Living in a van also forces the inhabitant to think creatively about maximizing space and resources. By having only what you need, you are freed up to enjoy the things you have without worrying about what you don’t need and what you don’t have.
Both reason one and two are at their core simply methods of achieving greater happiness in a world where that is becoming more and more difficult. I would be remiss to say that I practice minimalism for selfish reasons. By depriving myself materially, I am making myself richer spiritually. It’s not an original thought and has been around since Buddha, but it’s sometimes hard to remember in a world where we are bombarded with marketing and media telling us things we are supposed to believe.
Reason 3: A sense of environmental responsibility (and see just how small my carbon footprint can be).
I subscribe to the idea that if you want to change the world the easiest way to start is with yourself. I took the first step in 2005 by switching to a plant based diet. Factory farming and animal agriculture is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater depletion, species extinction, animal abuse, rainforest destruction and ocean dead zones. Naturally I realized that I could make the biggest impact on the environment with one single decision: stop eating meat. (There are other reasons I decided to stop eating meat that I won’t go into in this post).
Since 2005, I have slowly added things to my life that have further contributed to the environment. Things like switching from paper towels to cloth, bringing my own reusable cups and bowls to restaurants and juice shops, shopping in bulk, choosing only recycled and eco-friendly products and packaging, have all been done in the name of my conscious attempt to be mindful about the things I cannot readily see, but I know affect the environment. Just because you can’t see the landfill, the ocean garbage patches, the factory farm or the slaughterhouse doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I think people are innately good and virtuous and I think that if these things were in people’s backyards they would make different choices. We must make more conscious decisions before it’s too late and everyone can start with themselves.
The next logical step in shrinking my footprint would be to reduce my use of electricity and water. I researched ways to do this and found that going tiny would be the best solution. When I started looking at ‘tiny homes’ I realized that there were two issues. The first issue is that they weren’t mobile enough. If you want to travel in a tiny home you would need to make arrangements in advance everywhere you want to stay, you would have issues driving and maneuvering such a large vehicle. They were just really too cumbersome to drive. The second issue was that tiny houses were too much house for me. It sounds funny but a tiny house was just too BIG. Most tiny houses require to be connected to power and water and that was exactly what I was trying to avoid. Also, if I wanted to commit to going tiny I decided I was going need to go all in. I don’t have air conditioning and everything in my van is powered with low voltage. This allows me to run the entire van on solar power allowing me to use zero electricity from non-renewables. Yes, my actual engine runs on diesel which is currently the most efficient fuel available in any van on the consumer market today. I am currently researching how to use biodiesel fuels in my engine. With regards to water, I have a 25 gallon water tank which forces me to be extremely conservative with my water usage. I’m also looking into creating a water catchment system into my van.
I have several other reasons that will one day be elaborated on in other posts but this is just a quick synopsis of the thought process that went into moving into an 80 sq ft van. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions please feel free to email me.