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A Quarter Year in A Van

Amy Jarrett1 Comment
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THE VAN

It’s crazy how fast a year goes by, and all the happenings that can, in that short timespan, transpire.  As summer winds up, I am reminded of where I was this time last year. So much has developed. The seasons changed, but my hairdo didn’t. (Ah, the ever-elusive bowl cut.) About this time last year my husband and I decided to purchase our dream car. A car that would turn heads, raise heartbeats, and stop the ladies in their tracks. I’m speaking, of course, of our 2010 Renault Master cargo van. Previously a delivery van for auto parts and still sporting a fading remnant of the ‘‘Stahlgruber’’ decal it once rocked, our van had all the true makings of a hot tuna can on wheels. The roof is high enough that a Great Dane could stand up straight. It’s long enough to include a kitchen table that comfortably seats four, and it’s wide enough that when we turn the kitchen table into the kitchen bed we don’t have to kitchen touch each other when we kitchen sleep. (hallelujah hands emoji)

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I should preface our desire for owning a  camper van with some details about our lives: We are both freelancers who work from home a lot and are flexible regarding schedules and working hours. Amongst other projects, we also sing as a wedding band duo together (shameless plug: www.peopleofprogressmusic.com) and are therefore often traveling to different events and weddings around southern Germany. We also highly value travel as a life enriching habit, so we make a point of scuttling around Europe as often as we can. We live in the city, in a flat ever so gently bigger than a two car garage. So owning a van felt like adding an entire room plus a porta potty. Taking off for weekend adventures and feeling free as a bird has always been a dream of mine, and my standards for accommodation are thus: low. I’d sleep sideways in a sedan. Having a whole van with a stove top, running water, and my own sweet pillow feels sincerely spacious and homey. 

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OUR WEIRD SUMMER

I’d love to say that I remember exactly how and why we decided to spend 3 months living in our van together. I’d love to tell you the idea came to both of us in the same dream on a soft mystic night of the full moon. I think in reality it developed very organically and pragmatically. Since we would already be on the road playing weddings, and since we planned to take a nearly month- long jaunt to Scandinavia anyway, and simply because we could, we did. On a personal level we have approached this adventure as a bit of a social experiment. What will we do without an apartment to lounge around in? What things will we discover about adventure, about ourselves, about the unrefrigerated shelf life of Irish butter? 

Oh, the places you’ll go!

Oh, the places you’ll go!

parking spot during work weeks down at the river

parking spot during work weeks down at the river

One thing you might have realized about the limitations of living in a van is the sheer lack of space for things. Being limited in space makes you choose carefully the items you surround yourself with. This is true of our apartment in the city too of course, but somehow we always seem to collect more than we would like. Before we moved out, we did a huge overhaul, getting rid of lots of stuff that no longer felt joyful to own, and taking only that which felt necessary in the van. (I still took too much). We each got one plate, one bowl, one mug, and one glass. We each had a two foot long shelf above the bed and a small storage box under our seat for extra clothes or shoes. Our water tank for our electric faucet had six gallons and we kept a reserve six in the back. Having less felt so good, and having less still felt like having too much. I haven’t worn all the clothes I brought in the van with me and I have been hyper aware not only to not accumulate more (no room!) but also extremely aware of what we are constantly using. Water has been a limited commodity. Sure, we can always get more somewhere and somehow. We live in rich western Europe and have easy access. This fact is not lost on me! But when you are living in your van for months, you get a bit tired of constantly wondering if you are going to have enough water to cook your next round of lentil. I have often observed our freshly filled water tank and marveled at what a luxury water is. As we prepare to move back into our apartment at the end of the summer, I am interested in what types of minimalistic habits I will keep and how refreshing it will be to have a real toilet at all hours of the day, and a door to close when I use it.

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SYNOPSIS

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good morning

Challenges aside, living in that amount of space for that period of time somehow felt really fulfilling. I know it felt fulfilling because it was not a necessity. I am not homeless, there was never an obligation to leave my apartment, and there has always been an end date in sight. Moreover, I have always had places to go at friend’s houses where I was welcome to just be, to spread out, and to utilize the comfort of being indoors. (Thank you ALL, you know who you be!! xoxo) Therefore, the choice to downsize for a period of time has felt freeing. I feel that I have less fear, less dependency on social norms, and a greater appreciation of the few things I really need to feel content. Constantly pushing myself outside my comfort zone leads me to be free of the definition of ‘’normal,’’ which I feel is prescribed to me by society, and which I regularly feel the need to reflect upon. Things don’t make you happy. Security is only so secure. Resources are only so limited. Pretending you want the same things others want will not make you actually want them, it will only make you feel like a less joyful, more empty version of yourself. Having a weird adventure like living in a van for a summer has only made me feel more like me; a more joyful version of myself, a more confident version of myself, a fuller version of myself. 

(Small disclaimer: don’t live in a van as a couple if you don’t already really like each other, if you don’t have a sense of humor, and if you are interested in keeping any remnant of prudence or dignity.) 

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you’re always right there.

This van has provided us the means and, weirdly, the stability to be able to feel at home no matter where we might find ourselves.  As summer wraps up and I will no longer have to emerge mornings fully coiffed and ready for work from a dirty white van down by the river, I am both relieved and sad. It will be refreshing to live indoors again. But I am already daydreaming about our next van adventure.

Here’s a look at the progression of our van, from metal box baby to kindling on wheels.

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Thanks for stopping by!

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see you soon.