“The unexamined life is not worth living…” – Socrates, Genius Greek Philosopher
Since moving into my van, known as “The Mothership”, I’ve been forced to examine my life and its constituents more than ever before; perhaps my greatest self-experiment yet. The results have been insightful and somewhat uncomfortable thus far. And at times so intense that I’ve actually forgotten there is a life to be lived!
The goal of this post is to share just what it’s like to live in day-to-day solitude; Part 1 explores the conscious-living enhancement that has both surprised and enlightened me; I will share with you the lessons that have come along with this, (by conscious-living, I mean paying real, undivided attention to how you live your day-to-day life; something which I feel 95% of the planet rarely do).
Being forced to live in a confined space, on your own (or with someone you didn’t choose) is what I would term prison.
Voluntarily living in a small space, on your own, is what I would term (taking the first steps towards) freedom, (freedom meaning having the ability to create opportunities and have control over one’s own life as opposed to reacting to circumstance and being told how to live).
I have lived in shared accommodation several times, but never found it to be an overall more pleasurable experience than not. I always seem to get to a point where my time in a house is up and I feel the need to leave. I like my own space, what can I say? And even more, I like being in control of my own space.
Perhaps the spiritual lesson would be to endure shared accommodation until comfortable, but that’s another mission for another time.
It has been a dream of mine for a few years to have a van that I can call my own home, and finally, that’s now become true. But with my additional power has come an added dose of responsibility; life examination has never before been so intense!
Water, Waste and Space
One thing I have taken for granted up until now has been my water usage. I’m not that into eco-friendly shit to be honest, but van life has highlighted just why water is the human’s second most valuable resource.
Drinking – I’ve found that you cannot pay attention to the performance of transferring water from the 40ltr butt to a 5ltr bottle to a 1ltr bottle. If you do, you will not drink water, and you will tell yourself that the reward of drinking water does not outweigh the sacrifice of transferring it.
Being human, I did pay attention to this hassle, soon losing interest in the 1ltr bottle. Now I drink from the 5ltr. Before, I used to turn on a tap. (I have a tap option, but have not filled the van’s water tanks yet as 70ltrs = 70kgs = uses more fuel when driving.)
Washing – The ladies in my life will probably cringe at the fact I don’t wash everyday. As of writing this post, I have strip-washed in my wet room once in 3 months, actually with a lady present in the van. The water turned battleship-grey with grossness, it took about thirty minutes, and no, I did not let her witness the water’s colour for fear of exile from my own home.
Before, I used to turn on a tap. (I, too, have that option, but the shower unit is bust right now.)
I’ve been full-body washing about every 5 days, using the dirtbag mantra “I’ll clean it when I need it,” at friend’s houses / opportunities that allow, like recently in a country park reservoir, much to the amusement of the local duck population and early morning dog walkers.
What I have noticed is that my skin is actually better when it’s not washed everyday. I get less spots on my face, and I don’t actually start to stink until about day 4 to 5. If I know she’s coming over, I’m on it. When I start to smell Marmite, I know it’s time….
And I do believe that mass western civilisation is inherently paranoid about how it smells. Especially on public transport. I have also heard that the juice of a lemon is a great sanitiser. Yet to try it.
Washing Clothes has been the biggest pain the arse yet. I’m best at procrastinating laundry. Currently I have two dry bags (smell-retaining) full of dirty washing to be done. Somewhere in my mind I think that maybe they will decompose themselves, either giving more room to fill them again or ideally, leaving me with no clothes to deal with, but so far they remain pretty packed. I haven’t experimented with hand-washing garments in the van yet. Laundrettes and friends’ washing machines have sufficed thus far.
Everything Else – I’ve figured I use about 40ltrs of water a week. In a house, just flushing the toilet takes about 5-10 litres. My loo takes about 1/3 of a litre to flush. So without even trying, I’m using way less water. I might not be as clean as you, though.
It’s interesting to discover, (though perhaps an obvious point yet one I overlooked), that water is not that freely available. Very few public parks I have visited have water taps. Few corporate buildings have outdoor tap access. Water really is that vital to life – control a nation’s water supply and you’ve controlled the nation. Never thought I’d be rogue-water-filling, but I do. So far, friends have let me fill up, I guess when you think about it, at their expense. I did take the opportunity of filling up (flushing) water supplies in a reservoir, and I have found the odd anomalous tap. But really water is hard to come by. That’s pretty fucked up.
I’ve found that I fill a regular supermarket plastic bag about every 1-2 days. This surprised me; in housing I would fill one in a week. Most of my waste is packaging from food (ridiculous amounts!) and used kitchen roll. I would have less waste if I used cloths to clean with, but that is a pain in the arse, so I use kitchen roll instead.
I have very little food waste as I hate seeing meals left on plates. I don’t compost because it stinks. I made the mistake of leaving a mackerel tin and gone-off mozzarella rubbish bag in the van over a 24 hour period; very smelly house. Only did that once.
You might be shocked to discover that I don’t recycle living in the van. That’s because I don’t have a weekly collection like you. I have public litter bins. If I did split my waste up, my house would literally be full of crap for 6 days at a time. Or, I would have to rogue dump my collections into other people’s recycling bins, which I quite frankly, can’t be bothered with.
I didn’t start paying attention to how I actually used space until I started smacking my head on cupboard corners daily. You soon learn.
But in all seriousness, how I operate within a space has begun to fascinate me. I’ve always been interested in the design of living spaces; I would spend hours designing the ultimate tiny-house or van layout growing up, ever since watching Gene Kelly fold up his American in Paris bed. Fortunately, The Mothership is actually pretty genius in its layout. The use of space is amazing, and I don’t feel too cramped. If the design of your living space is efficient, you don’t need as much room as you think.
My mother always used to comment on large houses that ‘You can only live in one room at a time’. To me that’s now translated as ‘Live in one room’. Not for everyone, however.
And how does this work if you’re a couple? Don’t know. I’ve only spent days at a time with the lady in there, so I don’t have a full perspective. I’ve always said “If you can travel with her for a week, pay attention.” So I guess if you could do that, you could live together in a van.
A wise festival-friend of mine once told me, “If you want to decrease the amount of shit in your life, decrease the number of flat surfaces.” Now I’ve seen the light. All my surfaces have something on them 100% of the time. When you set off to drive, you gotta remove that shit, because it falls off and spills, breaks or takes your attention away from the road.
Is this the motive behind some of those weird interior design layouts where a room looks like there’s nothing in it…i.e. minimalist? Perhaps they’re on to something.
I’ve discovered I still have too many clothes. Everything else is ok.
Climbing over shit scattered everywhere is one of the fastest ways to induce cortisol-secretion in me. The positive reframe of this is that I’m therefore forced to keep my living space tidy, rearranging at least once a day, if I want to stay remotely sane. It takes me no longer than a few minutes to complete.
I have always been baffled by how much time (people who cannot afford a house cleaner) spend on cleaning their abode. “Do you think I like cleaning?” has always been asked of me, and my answer has always been “You must do! You do it for hours at a time and often!”. I just can’t summon myself to do that. The bigger a place, the longer I can leave it before it’s unbearable.
My van is not what I would call dirty. I expect it’s filthy to some people, but my body lets me know when the space is too dusty. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t much like getting into bed with shit stuck to my feet, either.
I find it much more efficient to be forced to clean a small space regularly, than having to voluntarily commit time irregularly against my interests.
Transformations, Sleeping and Magic Happenings
The Mothership has some sweet transformer shit built in to her. I can adjust my living space into one giant super bed if I wish; ideal for stretching on when it’s raining outside.
I don’t have to make my bed daily (something that would really piss me off) as my bed is above my driving cab, which makes life a lot easier. I recently christened my sleeping space, too; there’s a few logistics you have to take into account, but if you don’t have guests, you can always move downstairs. The suspension does add an extra amusement factor; “If The Mothership’s ‘a rockin’, don’t come ‘a knockin’“.
Van life is not attractive to all women, understandably. To me, it’s a perfect social filter. If she’s not into van life, or at least interested by it, she’s probably not my type of girl.
Part 2 explores how my choice to live in a van came about and covers a few opinions and insights I have regarding society and life-choices humans make. It’s a more philosophical piece, and I hope to challenge some of the views of the status-quo regarding lifestyles.
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