How did we decide to live in a van? Funny story.
We met three women in their fifties and sixties who owned a horse farm in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere between the Colorado and Utah border.
“Come live with us,” they said. “We’ll teach you how to run the ranch.”
We couldn’t pass up this wonderful opportunity to learn a new type of therapy (equine) and live in the desert, the place of our dreams. They pointed to 40 acres of juniper and sage with a view of the four corners, and said, “This is your home.”
Ian said, “Let’s buy a tipi to live in,” and I said, “No, let’s buy two tipis.”
So we bought two tipis. One gigantic one and one reasonably sized for guests. We couldn’t expect to move to a desert horse farm oasis without having room for visitors. We moved out of the house that we’d lived in for two years, got rid of every piece of furniture we had acquired, and moved to the armpit of America…for three days.
Ever meet someone who says all the right things, then you watch them and see something different? That’s how it went. Won’t dwell on it.
Long story short, it didn’t work out.
Not all of it was so short and sweet. For the last eight months we have debated where to move, when to move, what to move into (house, yurt, tipi, van, etc.). It was maddening, oscillating between all the uncertainty and possibility.
Somewhere in the midst of all the chaos and indecision, I decided to buy a van. Just in case our plans didn’t work out.
Our plans sure as hell did not work out.
In the span of 72 hours, we went from thinking we were going to live year round in a tipi, chop and collect wood all winter long, and get trained on how to facilitate equine therapy sessions to being homeless with two tipis and nowhere to put them.
Anyone looking to buy a tipi? We got em.
The sudden change was a relief, honestly. We had a van, and not just any van. A sexy, strong womanly van named Trisha, or Trish the Tank.
We weren’t really homeless, but according to the United States of America, we were hobos. The government states that anyone sleeping in a car is considered homeless, but they never specifically mentioned vans.
To keep our spirits high we told ourselves, “Summer is the best time of year to be homeless. We can go swimming every day. We’ll take river baths and scrub our scalps in alpine lakes. How wonderful, we’ll go camping every day.”
Living in a van is NOT like going on a fun road trip. But we decided to treat it like that.
In our first seven days of living in the van, we slept in New Mexico and performed at a music festival, spent one night a reservoir in Utah, then went to Moab for an art festival, then we went to Canyonlands, and once we absolutely exhausted ourselves, we drove back to Colorado to chill and actually take care of our life.
Trish the Tank is not set up to live in. She has a burly top rack for bikes, solar panels for charging our electronics, and otherwise we bought her completely empty inside. There was a bed frame built, but we slept on it for one night and the legs broke, so we dumped it in a dumpster.
For the first week of living in a van, we slept on the floor with crates and bags stacked up around us with no organization or sanity. We carried with us a stove, groceries, one set of clothes each, a kids table from Walmart, a box of costumes that took up the whole width of the van, bikes, propane, and white gas.
I forgot to mention that we are storage unit people now. My past self would die to know that I caved and purchased a storage unit. My teenage self always turned my nose up like, “Why would anyone chose to store stuff instead of getting rid of it? Ugh, people are so obsessed with their stuff.”
Now I’m obsessed with my stuff. I have collected canvases from friends across the country, some who don’t sell their art or have Etsy shops or even paint anymore. Along with my books, they are the most valuable thing to me. We also stored our winter gear: big heavy sleeping bags and backpacks and coats that we don’t need to cart around with us everywhere we go.
I have a vision to make my storage unit more wonderful than any storage unit you’ve ever seen. I’ll hang the canvases up the wall, get a bookshelf to display my books so I’m not rummaging through boxes. I’ll get hooks for our jackets and sleeping bags. I’ll plug in my lava lamp and disco ball and get a bean bag chair. If I’m feeling tired of my clothes or the books I’m reading, I’ll go shopping at my storage unit. Pronounced “store auge” like a fancy French woman. Ian thinks this is a waste of time and goes against the idea of having less stuff, but now that I have a storage unit I’m thinking we could have more stuff.
Back to the van, forget the storage unit. That’s the point of storage units, right?
Living in a van helps us live closer to our values.
We wake up when the sun rises. Every night, we’ve slept with the doors open so we can hear crickets and feel the wind. I’ve stopped scrolling on my phone at night because we’re usually parked out of service. I just stare off into space now, instead of at my screen. And I notice so much more. I’ve watched the moon shrink to a finger nail and the stars get brighter. I’ve listened to the deceiving cottonwood leaves jangle together, which sounds like water moving. We saw a badger for the first time, and when it crossed our path I didn’t have a word for it, except fluffy. I didn’t know what badgers looked like, and neither of us knew they were in red rock canyon country.
Since moving into the van, we have been living closer to nature, and that always brings out the best in us.
We took our first river bath after five days of dust, dirt, white gas, sand, sun, sunscreen, and no soap. We scaled down the red rocks into a creek and dove into a cold pool. It was so refreshing and wonderful we decided to do it again the next day. Though, this time we brought lawn chairs with us.
We sat in that creek all day long in those chairs, watching the sun’s arch move across the water. Countless groups of people came to visit our pool, but none stayed. Our day ebbed and flowed between long periods of solitude with the creek, and short bursts of men with dogs, naked women, screaming kids, and more men with dogs, all coming for a swim. Ian painted while I journaled. We walked, swam, and stared at the changing color of stone for an entire afternoon. I can’t remember the last time I let a day pass like that.
We value exploration, creativity, quality time with each other and nature. All of this feels more accessible living out of the van. So far, we have noticed that we practice our hobbies more often. There’s more time to be bored maybe, but we’re never bored. Instead, we’re riding our bikes, hiking, hula hooping, reading, drawing and writing.
Of course it’s not all glamorous. We spend more time just sitting in parking lots now, whether it’s to take a break from driving or to make a plan. Some nights we are stressed about where to park to sleep. We argued about whole entire chips, not crumbs, in the bed. Mosquitos bite my face at night while Ian sleeps like a baby. Neither of us have been alone in days, so we pick at what each other says and annoy each other. We took two showers in two weeks. There are trade offs, and we’re learning what those are.
We’ve been challenged to communicate more honestly and effectively. We don’t have separate rooms to go to, or separate cars or even separate drawers. All of our stuff is mixed together and we are constantly asking, “Where’s this?” and “Have you seen that?” and “Why did you put that there?” We’re improving our teamwork, and communication styles of what practical, what do we prioritize and what we decide to let go.
Trish the Tank will teach us many lessons in how to craft this new lifestyle.
In addition to being storage unit people, we’re also salad people now. That’s right, I never thought I’d say it either, but we eat salad every day.
Like I said, the van is not set up to live in. There’s no fancy kitchen with a sink, we have a five gallon water jug. There’s no pantry, we have milk crates. There’s no bathroom, we have bushes (sometimes). There’s no drawers, we have piles. There’s no cooler or refrigerator, we have milk crates.
Pulling out the stove, connecting it to propane, locating food we want, finding the knives that inevitably fell out of the milk crate, searching for the soap that’s bumbling around, setting it up and breaking it all down three times a day was exhausting. We gave up on cooking three meals a day, and settled on salads. Fresh greens, fruit, nuts, and vegetables is a fine diet indeed. Salads need no propane, no stove, no water, and no fuss.
It didn’t take long for the van un-livability to drive us crazy. After nine days, we decided we needed to at least build a bed. We parked in the driveway of Ed’s house, a mentor and friend to Ian. He let us use his tools, his shower, and his washing machine and I couldn’t stop saying, “Appliances are awesome,” over and over in my head.
Building a bed may seem simple.
To me, it felt monumental.
I couldn’t conceptualize a bed in my mind and make it appear in real life with my hands and supplies. I’ve never built anything with wood, except you know…forts at the creek.
The only time I’ve ever used a power tool is when I learned how to build hula hoops. Each hoop needed two simple holes drilled. Other than that, I knew next to nothing about building. I wasn’t even excited by legos or Lincoln logs as a kid.
So there I was, twenty six years old standing there with a piece of plywood and long slabs of what Ian called “2 by 4s,” wondering what magic would make a bed materialize.
Ian was a patient teacher. He taught me how to use a circular saw and a table saw. All day he repeated helpful sayings like, “Measure twice, cut once,” and, “You can’t grow wood back once you cut it.”
All day long I’d watch him loose his pencil in his back pocket, behind his ear, or on the ground.
We needed a lot of help.
Living in a van is teaching us how to ask for help: can we store our canoe in your yard and pick it up anytime and do you know how to fix this mistake we made cutting this piece of wood too short?
Ed helped tremendously. He told us to use screws and screw the nails we bought. He told us to overbuild, which I enjoyed because that meant making more holes with the power drill. He passed down knowledge and ideas that someone passed down to him.
Meanwhile, Trish the Tank is rolling her eyes waiting for us to enjoy asking for help and learning new things. She is the most patient of us all.
After five or sixty hours, we had successfully built and installed a raised bed for storage underneath, which surprisingly made life in Trish a lot more organized.
Don’t get all excited like I’m a van queen now. And don’t expect me to sell out and post photos of my feet with open van doors, twinkle lights and the ocean. There’s no ocean where I live.
To tell you the truth, we’re winging in. We’re following what feels easy and listening to what seems natural.
Ian and I have a running joke: “Four months or four years.”
This is what we say to each other when we are making a decision. We’re all in or all out kinda people, as well as storage unit and salad people.
At first we said, “Oh, it’d be so nice to live out of the van for summer. We’ll look for housing in the winter.”
But every night so far that we’ve spent in the van, we look at each other with ever growing grins. After two weeks our conversations are more along the lines of, “What if we drove to Arizona in the winter? Well if we’re building it out, we might as well build it nice. Well, if we’re building it nice, we might as well live in it for a long time…”
But, do not be swayed in either direction reading this. Only time will tell with us. We’re like kids on the playground that are running toward the swings, see a butterfly and start chasing it toward the monkey bars, then a kickball rolls over and we throw it back and become captain of the next game.
Either way, four months or four years, we’re having fun.
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