Travelling in a little Dodge Caravan meant quickly coming to terms with my “stuff” in a whole new way. By “stuff” I mean the everyday belongings I call “mine” and depend on for warmth, food, entertainment, comfort and safety. Which of course, changes depending on my environment. I’ve lived in the practice of minimalism for many years, but I’ve never been quite this minimal before.
There are all kinds of stuff questions I asked as I moved into a tiny space. What stuff do I need? Where will I put all my stuff? Oh my Gawd, I have too much stuff! I bet dealing with “stuff” is one of the first and biggest challenges most van-dwellers face. I bet it’s also one of the first reasons people aspiring to live tiny spaces throw in their tiny-towels in big fits of exasperation.
It can be exasperating because stuff demands our time, attention, care and emotional energy. We have a relationship with our stuff. Relationships require us to show up, be present and take care of things. Relationships can make us feel oppressed, and heavy. Or light and liberated. If you are currently having a rocky relationship with your stuff, it’s going to follow you into a van.
As I designed, measured, packed and repacked my belongings, I found myself once again contemplating the nature of stuff and how I interacted with it. Here are a couple things I’ve learned.
Stuff has energy and expands to fill the space allotted to it. All of the space allotted to it, and then some. Much like a goldfish will grow into the size of it’s bowl. So, if you don’t insist your dish towels live in the left side of a drawer, they will expand to also inhabit your glove compartment, tool-box and the space under your front seats. Eventually, if not re-directed, they will find their way into nearby trees, occasionally belonging to neighbouring camp sites.
This principle applies to all stuff, although not all gravitate to trees, naturally.
In a small space such as a van, I was wise to present myself to my belongings as their Self-Appointed Leader. Because, without proper training and clear direction (ie. Sit. Stay. Hang. Dry) my stuff becomes belligerent and unruly. If I don’t manage “it”…. it will happily manage me.
In order to thwart the behavioural tendencies of stuff, I chose stuff that fit into the available space and not the other way around. For example, I didn’t choose clothes first, then attempt to fit them a cupboard. Which can lead to spacial disasters and stuff overflow. I determined the space for clothes first, and chose clothes which fit neatly into it.
This principle works because space is finite but stuff is not. Unfettered, clothes will make themselves at home in your kitchen, pantry or garage.
If you are in the design phase of a build, consider making a detailed list of all the stuff you wish to travel with, and determine exactly where it will be stored before you actually screw things together. Measure stuff, and measure spaces. Make piles of your stuff. Draw pictures of space with real dimensions. Make sure they match. It’s so lovely when they match.Remember, if you do not give stuff specific storage, it will wander aimlessly forever in your van, in a sort of homeless purgatory.
It may seem tedious to itemize this way. I think my builder thought I was cray cray with my focus on pre-determining storage, but I assure you it is well worth it at the end-user level!
If you matched well, you will enjoy the pleasure of travelling with nothing running “loose” and be able to enjoy a peaceful little sanctuary (this is what I seek on the road) without first having to deal with wayward and disorderly stuff needing to be wrestled into submission.
Another thing I discovered is that stuff prefers to reside with similar stuff. Just like Van Folk like to hang with other Van Folk in Facebook groups. You may discover, as I did, that “rooms” emerge in your tiny space, even if they are only square inches in size.
Thus, I have a garage (the cubby where my tools live at the back hatch), a mud-room (the bin on the passenger side floor where my shoes, umbrella, flip-flops and raincoat live), a kitchen (the cupboard that slides out of the van), the pantry (the area in my pull-out designated as a food storage area), a bathroom (the little drawer beside my bed where my bathroom things live) and an entertainment unit (the white bin with a lid that lives between my front seats and holds my phone, camera, charger, cables and Kindle -anything electronic that needs protection from dust and dirt).
I have a control room (under my bed, left side) where the battery, inverter and converter cohabit peacefully with a number of carefully restrained wires. These units require ventilation and must be given extra room, so bolting them to the frame takes care of the “stuff” migration problem and ensures they always have good air flow. (Never give anything power-related even an inch of choice about where to reside as it will take a mile) Show authority in this area.
I even have a hallway (the open space that is the floor when my table is outside as a picnic table) a dining room (my picnic table, when outside) and a sitting room (when the awning is up). I have a library ( a little spot behind the cabinet) and of course a bedroom, which consists of my bed, bedding and a space for my clothing. When I put in the table into the van as a second sleeping space, I even have a guest room.
Thinking of my van like this helps me find things. The only logical place to find a Kindle cable is in an entertainment centre. Lentils belong in the pantry. I never think twice about where my hammer is. Of course it’s in the garage!
Here is a little summary. Three important things.
Stuff naturally expands, like a goldfish or the universe. It is up to you to define the space it will live in. Likewise, only you can decide when you actually have enough stuff. If do not control stuff, it will control you.
Secondly, stuff likes to commune with similar stuff. If you allow for this naturally occurring tendency in your tiny space, logic will help you locate stuff easily.
And finally, the practice of minimalism and living with less is not about going without. It’s carefully choosing what we bring into our lives and caring for it appropriately.
It’s about being in touch with the stuff that brings us the deepest pleasure and shamelessly indulging in it.
4 thoughts on “The Unruly Nature of Van-Stuff”
well written, I am in design phase and have been trying to visualize where things will fit. I have some backpacking experience which really teaches you about minimalism since you have to carry the stuff so that helps. In fact, I think I will have lots of space, can’t wait to see
What kind of vehicle are you re-fitting? I LOVED the design phase. It made me feel clever! It’s quite exciting and satisfying to make really good use of space. I bet back-packing was an awesome lesson in minimalism! Now, I can’t wait to see too! Share if you like as you go along, would love to celebrate what you come up with!
Great article and great way to look at your world now. You’ve made me think about my project a little differently as well and how this applies to it. It may just help me organize a bit better or at least realize it’s importance. Nice writing. Thanks.
Hi there John! It makes me happy to think I might be help out a little. You know, in a big space, it’s easy to be very disconnected from our belongings, but in a small space we get up close and personal quickly. Being efficient and resourceful are suddenly qualities worth exploring because it has a very real and instant effect on the quality of our lives (ie. it makes life easier! HaHa!) I really dislike having to rifle through things day after day looking for things. It makes me irritable. So, just knowing that every little thing “lives somewhere” just seems to bring a great peace 🙂 Good luck with your project!