Tidying Up and Rearranging the Furniture

Going tiny.

There’s been a lot of talk about tiny living the last few years, and several TV shows have made tiny homes and the lifestyle that they encourage common knowledge. Watching any one of these shows drives home the severity of the change, when you see families fitting all their belongings inside a single hula hoop. It’s a big change, and one that I’ve been excited to make but that has also seemed like an overwhelming feat. I’ve got a lot of stuff. Even forgetting everything else, I’ve got 700 books or more that I couldn’t imagine getting rid of.

I first acquired Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up about two years ago. I’m pretty sure it was something my mom gave me, but it’s possible I picked it up in one of my hyper, self-improvement-obsessed moods. However it came to me, it did nothing else for a great long while, merely sat on my bookshelf and occasionally caught my attention.

“Oh, I’d better read that,” I would think. And then leave it, untouched and un-thought-about, until the next time it caught my eye.

Last week, I started reading it.

I want to pare down my stuff for tiny living. But more than that, I want this to be the start of a new kind of lifestyle, one where I’m free of all the extra weight that we pick up throughout our lives. All my stuff adds to that weight. It can’t be part of the life I’m picturing. So I picked up the book.

It’s not a book about cleaning. I mean, it is, but it really isn’t. It’s a book about attitude.

The bare bones of it is that Marie Kondo developed a method for tidying up your home or living space which will guarantee you will never have to tidy up your things again (“tidying,” here, leaves out all the cleaning and maintenance that taking care of your things requires, and merely refers to the act of trying to enforce control over your possessions and rein them all back into their rightful places). She says that none of her clients who have completed her program have “rebounded” back to their old ways or had to go through the process a second time. It sounds impossible, but I really don’t think it is. I think it makes perfect sense.

Because what Marie Kondo is teaching isn’t cleaning. It’s psychology.

Her method teaches a certain way of looking at your life and your possessions that infuses everything with value. The requisite that items “spark joy” not only emphasizes the idea that we should surround ourselves with things that make us happy on a visceral level, and only those things, but that every item should have a role in providing the kind of life we want to live. In the book, she instructs readers to not only outline the kind of life they want to lead in detail, but to take the time to explore the deepest, most hidden reasons why that’s the life they dream of. There’s a purpose behind every item that you keep, a purpose so deep that you can’t help but feel grateful to have it.

The gratitude doesn’t stop there. Each item that is tossed, gets thanked. The KonMari Method teaches the principle that every item has a role. That role might be as simple as bringing you joy when you tried it on in the store. But if you get it home and realize you hate it, that’s ok. It isn’t a waste, because it has fulfilled its role. It brought you joy. It made you feel beautiful. There’s no pressure to use something until it’s useless. The role each item has in your life is different, and you’re the only one with the power to know what that role was. So when an item has completed its duty, it’s a celebratory moment in which you can thank it for the joy it brought you and send it away without guilt.

When you think about your things this way (that they have a sort of destiny of their own, an ability to inspire joy in you, that they contribute to the life you dream of living), it completely changes how you see your stuff. You want to take care of your things because you love them, you’re grateful for them, and you appreciate the work they do for you. Taking care of your things becomes something fun to do because you get to handle them and dwell in all the reasons they add to your life and your happiness.

I haven’t finished the book yet, but thinking about things this way has already changed how I do things and what I value. I had wanted to have a good-sized mirror somewhere in the van so I could see how I looked, but I realized that a mirror like that really wouldn’t serve me. A big part of van life, for me, is learning to be less self-conscious, to worry less about what others think, and to see my own beauty as something that comes from my health, who I am as a person, and how I see myself. I realized that being able to fuss over silly little details in the mirror isn’t going to help me to any of that. With Marie Kondo’s method, I should only own clothes that make me feel good, regardless of how they look on me. The car mirrors are more than sufficient to keep me from poking myself in the eye with my mascara, and that’s all I think I really need a mirror for.

Even simple actions, like washing my face, I think about differently with Marie Kondo’s method. I take my time doing it, and think about how I love how effective and easy the product I use is, how it works for me and how many other products I had to try and hate before I found it. I think about how I love my skin for the job it does, and because it’s put up with my excessive lack of sunscreen over the years. I do the action with purpose, focus, and gratitude, and it completely changes how I feel about it.

Personally, I think The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up sells itself a bit short. It comes across as a book about cleaning, and seems to say that if you’ll only clean up, your life will change for the better. That isn’t the message at all. Instead, the book teaches you how to think about the smallest things with purpose, intuition, and gratitude, and then see that small change impact everything else in your life.

Meanwhile, with the actual build…

I got my solar panels! I’m pretty happy with them so far. We’ll see how I feel once they’re mounted and connected and have gone through the full weather spectrum.

One of the two 170-Watt panels

I got two 170-watt panels from Zamp Solar after Liz Bryant (@wildbythemile) mentioned in one of her YouTube videos that her solar panels had survived golfball-sized hail without a single dent or scratch. These panels are American-made, and I was actually pretty pleased with the price. They’re not the cheapest option, but they’re definitely not the most expensive, either.

I got the 170-Watt Dual-Battery Solar Kit and one expansion panel, which should be plenty to keep my system charged up. I’m not too worried about that, though, as I plan on having a smart isolator to charge my leisure battery from my engine after the car battery is full as a backup plan.

The kit came with a triple-port roof cap, mounting feet, a 30-amp digital solar controller all the wiring needed to connect the panels, controller, and batteries, and a sticker. The sticker was a bonus.

My dad and I went to Home Depot over the weekend and bought the insulation, as well. There’s a chance I’ll have to go pick up more materials, but I think there’s also a chance I might have leftovers. It’s kind of a toss-up. (Most of it, anyway. I still want to get some polyester batting and Home Depot didn’t have that.)

I also came up with a slightly better plan for the bed-to-table part of my design. The side walls of my van are a bit funky, in that they’re further apart higher up than they are on the lower half.

And, as you can see, my original design had the corners of my counters and my table touching, or very nearly touching. I would have had to remove the table, climb over it, or enter the van from the back in order to sit.

This was my original design for the van, a dinette-to-bed in the back on a raised platform, two countertops across from each other, and a storage area just behind the driver’s seat. Eventually, I decided I wanted a U-shaped bench in the back, and that was my design up until I realized the table and counters wouldn’t have any space between them.

I originally planned on filling that upper area of the wall with batting and then cover that with foam board insulation in order to get a ton of R-value. But I realized that if I skipped the batting, I could have the bed extend an extra three inches on either side, which gives me a six-foot bed. And by extending the benches out a couple of inches, the bed will be five-feet wide, and I’ll have a gap to get between the counter and the table. I plan on having a table-extension on a hinge so the bed will be square.

I’m really happy about this new design. It means tons of bed space and a really simple transition from dinette to bed. It will be a great space to hang out, eat, get work done, and I can even use the table as additional counter space while I’m cooking.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how things are coming along. I plan on laying out the wiring this week and hopefully starting on the insulation. If the weather is good, I’m definitely going to get the ventilation fan installed and maybe get the solar panels up, too.

The good news is once I’ve turned my metal box into an insulated box with finished ceiling, walls, and floor, I could take weekend trips in it. Hopefully, later this month I can do a trip to Death Valley and get something exciting up on the blog!

All my best,

Carson