The Lessons I’ve Learned From Living in a Van

 For a long time, I struggled with depression. From the time I was 5 years old, up until a few years ago, each day was a constant struggle to get out of bed and do something. I’m not saying Van Life has cured me, but the minimalism aspect of it probably did. If nothing else, it has given me a new outlook on things.
For instance, I no longer go through the motions of day to day life. Instead of just following the prescribed life model of go to school, get a job, make money, settle down, etc…
I am finally starting to carve my own path out of this crazy world, and that is a beautiful thing!
In honor if my new found mental freedom, I would like to share with you some lessons I’ve learned from my life on the road.


organize on scrabble board
I will murder you over Scrabble

You know how they say making your bed is the first thing you should do after waking up? They say it for a reason, when everything is in its place, we are more at ease. Fifteen year old me would say that’s bullshit, but thirty seven year old me knows better!

Each item we keep in the van has to have a purpose. We no longer have room for stuff, it would drive us nuts. In addition to only saving what we need, we have to have storage solutions that make sense. For example, your deodorant should stay with your personal cleaning items. Don’t put it somewhere stupid, like your sink. That’s crazy talk.
Better organization leads to happier van life.
Like a van, a mind is also an important item to keep organized. I have learned in my old age that I need to start keeping a notebook with me at all times. My brain is constantly coming up with ideas and reminding myself about the things I need to do. That’s great and all, but those suggestions never stop. I used to wake up in the middle of the night thinking about something stupid, like how I needed to optimize a photo to share on Pinterest!
Ain’t no body got time for that!
Writing it all down helps me because now there’s a back up plan in place. I feel less pressured to REMEMBER ALL THE THINGS!
It’s silly, but it helps.

Nothing Will Ever Go According to Plan

Whatever can go wrong, will.
I went through a few different mechanics when I first purchased the van. I knew I was going to have to invest some money into it, and wanted the best person for the job. My thinking behind this was:
If I find the best mechanic there is and have him fix whatever is wrong right now, then nothing will break down when we’re on the road.
van life lessons
The cutest mechanic ever!

After going to three separate places, I settled on a local mobile mechanic. He would spend hours on my van teaching me everything. He was older and would bring his son along with him, and they both had so much knowledge about cars. I tried to be a little sponge and soak up as much information as I could.

Several hundred dollars later, and a 10,000 mile road trip looming in the distance, we said our goodbyes and he assured me we were good to go.
I can almost feel you laughing at me through the internet!
The next day I started my van up as usual and it purred like a kitten, just like it was supposed to. What wasn’t supposed to happen, however, was the shifter being stuck in park.
I called him immediately and he told me to force it into drive. It did not feel like good advice, but I trusted him.
One hundred miles later, my alternator belt snapped.
Turns out, his son didn’t put it on correct the first time. It needed to be adjusted a bit, but when he left it in the position it was in, every time I switched gears it would rub up against the belt. It was a stupid little mistake, but something he should have picked up on when I told him how hard it was to get into drive.
Moral of the story is, if we allow ourselves to relax and know that we can’t control every little thing we’ll be much happier. Fuel Pumps Fail, tires explode, engines seize, and idiot kids put alternator belts on wrong. Sometimes you do everything you can to prevent it and it happens anyway.

Stop Buying Things You Don’t Need

I am hugely guilty of this one. When I was in my early 20’s I was into shopping. Not for expensive designer clothes, but for cheap stuff that came from Ross or Marshalls. I would have a day off of work and come back with bags of matching towels sets, and random kitchen gadgets that I would only ever use once.
man, not living van life
Is this you?

I would buy it all under guise of “nesting”. Trying to make the apartment that my ex and I shared as comfortable and homey as possible.

(Caution: Bummer Alert Ahead)
When I found out he was cheating on me, I decided to start a new life 2,000 miles away. Immediately. I packed whatever I could fit into my Jeep Cherokee and drove away in the night. I left behind my TV, living room set, computer, dishes, and all my fun single use kitchen gadgets.
At first, I was devastated. Not only did I lose my stupid boyfriend, but I had lost all my stuff too.
A funny thing happened a few weeks later, I stopped caring. About the boyfriend, AND the stuff. Everything took on an air of simplicity without them, and I started to feel happy.
I moved in with my cousin, and she let me stay on her couch for a few weeks until I got on my feet. The ex kept all my things, and I never heard from him again.
I decided right then and that that I was never going to acquire more than I could fit into the back of my car.
People buy far more than they need in the hopes that it will fill some void in their lives. While a big screen TV can be fun, it doesn’t make up for the fact that you had to work a job you hate to earn it. Looking back on it, I definitely shopped to feel better. Not only because of the whole depression issue, but also because I was unhappy in my relationship.
There’s a great article that delves into this a little more, “Why we buy things we don’t need” on Check it out.

Replace the Time You Would Have Spent Shopping With Experiences

Think of all those things you want to do but can’t because you don’t have time. For example, going to the gym, taking up a hobby, or meeting up with a friend. When you’re able to get yourself out of that endless cycle of acquiring stuff, you’ll notice you have so much more time on your hands.
rv life gambling
Maybe now is the time to take up gambling.

I now get to spend my days walking around my neighborhood, reading, crafting, and hanging out with my friends. I have more time to do the things that matter to me. Lets face it, no one likes working, but for most, the reason they work is to make money.

  • Money to afford things.
  • Things that fill the hole in their lives.
  • The hole created by working.
It’s a viscous cycle.

Routine Maintenance is Important

You have to stay on top of routine maintenance. There is no getting around it. If you don’t check your fluids and get oil changes regularly, you risk the long term health of your vehicle. Staying on top of it, and having a schedule will limit the amount of bad things that can happen on the road.
I used to be the person that avoided oil changes like the plague because I hate feeling like I’m getting suckered for additional services. There’s something about a woman walking into an oil change place that makes dollar signs flash in the sky, I swear.
When it comes to your tiny home on wheels, you have to bite the bullet and get it done. Try not to punch the guy in his face when he shows you a dirty filter over and tells you it needs replacing (even though you just replaced yours yourself two days before). Tell him to suck it, and the actual oil change will be all you are purchasing.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

house life van dwelling
I bet these jerks brag on Facebook ALL THE TIME.

If you still haven’t made the switch to van life, and you’re having a hard time thinking about the fact that you’ll basically be homeless, all I can say is, don’t worry about it. You can be happy, healthy, totally normal, and live in a van down by the river.

Most likely all your fears are brought on by what you think society wants.
If you are part of the Oregon Trail generation like I am, your parents probably gave you some spiel about how going to school, working hard, and being a good human would pay off. For most of us however, it didn’t.
My generation did the right thing, we spent massive amounts of money on college, sacrificed our sanity for our jobs, and took on loads of debt to better ourselves. What do we have to show for it?
If you’re one of the lucky ones that isn’t living in a basement with five roommates, and you have a house, congratulations!
I sincerely hope you never get stuck with a huge medical bill, or work for a company that decides to cut your position to save money.
Money they will just put into the pockets of a CEO.
Once I stopped caring about what other people thought of me and what I was supposed to be, or have, at this point in my life, I finally felt free. Quit Facebook and Instagram if you have to! Go out into the woods and take a hike, or play fetch with a dog! There are way more important things in this world.
For example, did you know there’s a place in Costa Rica that saves sloths? If that sounds Bad Ass to you, don’t just read a blog about it, go there and see it!
sloth sanctuary costa rica
It took everything not to grab him and run.
Since down grading my living situation, I’ve been able to do so much more with my life. I’ve sailed in a small boat through the Carribbean with an insane captain. I’ve taken a bus through Panama in the middle of the night while the children next to me sang Christmas carols in Spanish. I’ve eaten beignets at Cafe Dumonde in New Orleans.
And damn it! I’ve seen baby sloths up close.
You can do it too, don’t be scared.

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