“What? You can’t live in a van? You’re going to have a baby! Babies need things!”
This was the reaction of some of my friends, family, and co-workers when I told them we bought a van and decided to travel one week before our son was born. Some of my friends looked like they were going to puke when I told them the news while a couple open minded ones expressed excitement and wished it was something they could be brave enough to do.
This was one of the scariest and hardest decisions I’ve ever made. Not having a stable four walls to come home to was just as gut wrenching as what my long time friends were going to think about me. Our manufacturing business was just starting to gain momentum, though it was sucking every penny (and more) out of our bank account while absorbing all of our time and mental sanity. Our little one was coming in one month and since I was going to be a mom, I set my heart on being the best mom I could. I knew this didn’t mean making a lot of money, providing all the gidgets and gadgets they say you need, or even having a stable home to live in. Being the best mom to me meant being there for our child, being present in the moment, and not being stressed or worried about maintaining or achieving a certain mainstream lifestyle.
I was one of those consumers with a walk-in closet full of brand labels, 40 or 50 pairs of shoes, all only worn a few times while my actual daily digs consisted of a few pairs of jeans, tights and Ugg boots. Seriously, I had thousands of dollars worth in cosmetics, skin creams that didn’t work, just sitting in my closet all too expensive to throw away.
A couple years ago, something changed. It was my mindset. The epiphany? “Everything is just an idea.” For example, all those images that we are fed in magazines and media about what we need, how we need to live, what we need to look like, how to dress, how we need to raise our kids, are all just some ONES idea.
“Our only limitations are those we set up in our own minds.”
These were inspiring words by Napolean Hill that were inscribed on our warehouse wall. They became words we lived by and here came the power of belief – in yourself. Besides, if I didn’t like it, we could always go back to getting regular jobs, apartment, high speed internet, etc.
Change is never easy, especially if you grew up in a strict, conservative, religious family. Sometimes change requires some major kicking and screaming. But honestly, if your spirit is tired of the same daily grind, feeling helpless, hopeless, even bored about your situation, everything being driven by money, up to your eyeballs in debt, it could be the saving grace you need, or just give you some breathing space while being able to travel, regroup your life, and save a little money along the way.
What really tipped the scale was we saw our future home on a used car lot in our own. It was full sized used airport shuttle van with a high top. I looked inside and saw all the space. I told hubby “I could totally live in this, it’s like a tiny home!” When we found out we only needed $5000 down, we decided… “We can do this!!”
And so the letting go began. I had $40,000 in business loans, and two cars on collateral, one was my beloved all original classic vintage 1967 Volkswagen bus (which I bought with the intention to travel across country in but never had the time or the guts to do), that we decided to let go of to eliminate that debt. That alone was a $900 payment a month. We shut the doors to our business that was $3600 a month overhead. $4,400 a month in payments eliminated was like 2 tons of stress gone. We sold everything we could as fast as we could in one week on craigslist, Facebook and freecycle – equipment, furniture, appliances, electronics, surfboards – in our 1600 sq ft warehouse. We had $3000 cash in hand and with a little help from family and our sons godmother, we had enough for the down payment. It was a good thing because our son came 3 weeks early so we only had the van 1 week before he was born.
In retrospect, everything was like a crazy whirlwind. Now that a year has past, we’ve had a little time to reflect on the things we’ve had to work through. And maybe, for some of those people thinking about a lifestyle change, this may inspire you to make the move and dispel some of those unknowns.
Here’s a simple (but not easy) breakdown of the changes both inside and out that we had to overcome:
Things you will absolutely need to lose:
- Your ego. First and foremost, you absolutely can NOT care about what anyone thinks about you. I have even lost some so-called friends over this decision. I believe it’s because our new lifestyle may not have fit their social profile. People may think you are going to be a suffering homeless bum eating out of dumpsters (this was my first scary thought). Pretending to be something that isn’t your true self just to fit in or be accepted wears on your spirit, and if you can’t afford it, will wear on your wallet.
- A whole bunch of material baggage. Downsizing may be painful at first, but once we started getting rid of a few items, it started getting addicting. I would ask myself, “when was the last time I used this thing…?” And the answer would always be “years ago”. It would be something just sitting in my closet that I had intended to use but never had the time. No space in the van for that, it’s gotta go! Plus, we were to be parents real soon, it was the perfect time to rethink our priorities and the things that might weigh us down.
- Your full time job. Most of us can’t travel full time if your working for the man full time, especially if you have an actually location you need to do your work at. Our warehouse took 50-60 hours of week of our physical time, leaving not much free time for anything. There are exceptions in this age of technology, I now only work about 5-10 hours a week doing freelance graphic design and web design for small businesses and a little bit of agency work.
- The usual comforts. Unless you got a full size RV, you’re without a bathroom, reliable electricity, appliances, and comfortable furniture. I was worried about where I was going to pee, but living out in nature, there are plenty of dirt and grass patches to pee on and no bathroom to clean. For those rare occasions we stay in town or be stuck in an extreme desert windstorms, we improvised a pee jar so we wouldn’t have to go outside. We didn’t have any running water either so we were a lot more frugal with our water consumption.
- Shower every day. This was a tough one for me. If you’re staying in town and have a job to go to, you can always get a gym membership and use their facilities. Thing is, we spend a lot of time in national forest and on BLM land, and we got it down to where we were only making bi-monthly trips into town to do laundry and Costco runs. We don’t run into many people, and when we do, they are usually campers, hippies, or travelers who’s priorities have nothing to do with smelling good. It’s one of those things that was just a given in my life before the van, and seeking out a hot shower became more of a nuisance than just putting a couple dabs of essential oils to get us to the next convenient bath.
- Control. No matter how much you think you have control over your life, you have to come to terms with the realization that no one has control over everything in their life. There are always going to be situations that you can’t be prepared for. What we have realized is some of the best circumstances we have come across threw us off our planned path. We’d just wing it and things would work out for the better. I used to pretend I had control over everything but reality was I was worried, scared and anxious. Humans are smart and resourceful. Just have faith, be aware and in the moment…you can handle anything that comes your way.
This last year has really made me look at all the things I had taken for granted, and how oblivious and wasteful I was with all of these things.
Things you will gain:
- Time. Even with a newborn child, I’ve had more time to be creative than I have in the last 15 years. You’re never in a rush to get anywhere because home is where our van is, time becomes irrelevant unless you make plans to be somewhere. Also, having a smaller space to live in and less material things, cleaning and maintenance is a lot easier. 10 minutes and the whole van can be swept, organized, and cleaned out.
- Peace of mind. Without the added expenses of housing and utilities alone frees up money and mental capacity. Just worrying about these things used to keep me down.
- Freedom. You can go wherever you want whenever you want. If you don’t like where you’re at, or the people you’re around, you can just drive away.
- Space. This may seem like an oxymoron, living in an 8’x 12′ van, but the reality is, you actually lose the stale box you live in and gain the whole world. Our van has windows on all four sides so everywhere we went, it was like we were living in a glass cabin and our surroundings became our home.
- New friends. You’d be surprised how many people are living out of their vehicles. Many are just like us, they have given up on the frustrations of the money-image driven culture and are reconnecting with our fellow humans. There is a subculture of people who are passionate about life, adventure, and the unknown. We exchange tips, tricks, goods, and share meals when crossing paths.