We’re back. We’ve brought in the food, the dishes, the clothes, and the books. We’ve cleaned Pepa and tucked her into a garage. We’ve started jobs, shoveled snow from the sidewalk, and run errands. There’s adjustment. It’s different, but good.
What have we learned about living after living in an eighty-square-foot van for two months? A lot:
We have too much stuff.
When we walked into our house it appeared clean and empty. Good, we said, we don’t have too much. Then, the stuff started appearing. It poured from closets and cabinets. It occupied space. We put it away, and it came back.
Next, we unloaded Pepa. She had too much stuff. We took out items we didn’t use once.
We had begun a purge before we left; now a divestment begins in earnest.
We have too much space.
As cramped as Pepa might feel, we always knew where things were. Compare to the house—books in one room, clothes in another, art and writing supplies in a third. Time is spent walking around, finding these things. The stuff we hold onto can be concentrated into a smaller space. We will see it on a daily basis and can evaluate whether or not we need it.
Money goes much further when its not used as much
In our van we spent money on (in order): energy (gas), simple food, and shelter maintenance (parts). That’s about all. We were quite happy. We ate one nice meal out. We entertained ourselves by reading stories out loud, playing guitar, and doing the dishes with as little water as we could.
There is the added cost of rent at home, but energy, food, and maintenance costs can be kept at a van-life level. There are two obvious variables on whether or not one has enough money: how much you make and how much you spend. Spend less and need less and the demand and pressure for making more diminishes. Of course some money is needed because we do not produce all of our food and energy and must pay for our shelter. But once less becomes customary, it’s amazing to look back at what you had and wonder at why you thought you needed it.
We don’t need to do as much.
This is a hard one. It doesn’t mean not being passionate or pushing hard at the causes you believe in. But there’s something to be said for being attendant to your life. What do we miss when we do everything but spend time with those who matter the most to us? Who told us we were supposed to rush through life? We could say that we weren’t nearly as “productive” as we hoped to be on our trip. But has productivity ever been a measurement of happiness? And what if productivity were measured based not on how many tasks one completed but in how present one was while completing them?
This is much harder to achieve in Missoula. Everyone wants you to be everywhere. We learn to say no sometimes. We leave time for each other and ourselves.
We can be happy where we are
We don’t need to travel in a van to be happy. We don’t need to see the world. It’s nice to be in one place. We see people we know while buying groceries. We walk in familiar places.
Everything from van life can be applied to home life. Although the confines of a space no longer enforce a lifestyle, we can maintain the discipline ourselves.
Will our lives change? We think so…