Minimalism and the Life of a Van Dweller
“It is desirable that a man live in all respects so simply and preparedly that if an enemy take the town, he can walk out the gate empty-handed and without anxiety.” — Henry David Thoreau
This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, and I just discovered it today. Although my husband and I aren’t at constant fear of enemy takeover, what Thoreau is saying is entirely applicable to our modern lives.
We moved out of the cabin in late April with a complete unknowing of the future. We had unintentionally collected a lot of items after living in a home for a year and it made both of us feel very stuck, and a bit defeated. When you accumulate material goods, it becomes a lot harder to drop everything and go. We as people, and especially as Americans, feel this strange obligation to hold onto things (and I say things not for a lack of a better word, but in the literal since of “objects” or “stuff”).
These things that we hold so dearly, hold us back from so much.
After moving out, we decided to have a huge garage sale and get rid of all the random stuff we had acquired over the last year. We took the rest to a thrift store and kept only the items we absolutely, without a doubt needed; and truth-be-told, we still kept too much. We live in our van now, so space is limited, and those things we thought we couldn’t live without are now just in the way. After somewhat sporadically booking our trip to Thailand, we got rid of even more and are now down to 100 items between the two of us (three if you count our dog, Pilgrim). It feels good, like, really good.
For us, it isn’t necessarily because this life is easier than a traditional style of living. Living simply and in a van can be pretty challenging sometimes. Pilgrim sheds and takes up more of the bed than he should. We let the ice melt in our cooler and our groceries go bad. We forget to roll the windows up and get rained on at night. The van acts as a big heater in the summer and a big refrigerator in the winter. If you have to go to the bathroom late at night, your options are walking the 200–300 yards across the entire Walmart parking lot or peeing into a bottle. There are times when I wish we lived in a normal, two-bedroom-one-and-a-half-bath like every other married couple we know. I felt that way yesterday. But then I sleep on it and wake up remembering why we live the way we do.
We both work for ourselves, so it isn’t like money is just pilling up in the van (because I’m sure that’s what you were thinking — that we just hide cash under the mattress and in the cupholders). We love to travel and travel isn’t always cheap. Living in the van saves us almost $1,000 a month on rent alone. We also don’t pay renter’s insurance. We don’t pay for electricity, utilities, trash, internet, cable, and probably at least one other thing I’m not remembering.
Not only does this allow us to save for future trips, it also allows us to invest over 50% of our income. We’ve started to realize that the less we have, the more we find joy in small things. We eat Lunchables and peanut butter for almost every meal because we promised ourselves we would save as much as possible before leaving for Thailand. While eating this way feels boring and repetitive most of the time, it’s really freaking awesome to know that we are saving for something better. We could go out to eat and spend $25 on one meal, or we could spend $30-$50 for an entire week’s worth of food.