Tag Archives: Digital Nomad

Design 2 – My Dream Small Van (Part Time)

The 2nd in my series of Dream Tiny Home designs – A small van for part-time living.

This is what I’ve chosen for my current lifestyle – a vehicle I can sleep in at a moment’s notice and live in comfortably for a few days at a stretch without any planning, but that isn’t suitable for full time living.

A bigger fully self-sufficient van is useful for weeks on end in nature or an urban life in which the van essentially acts as a full time home. You can stand up in it and it has enough room for a wood burner.

View From Rear Seat

Interior of my last big van, with mini woodburner.

Unfortunately it’s also easy to spot and invite hassle, on account of the chimney, long and difficult to park. Having such a low MPG, it could be prohibitively expensive to drive.

Alternatively, a moderate sized van can sleep two, may not have enough room for standing or for a burner, but will be as economical to run as a large car. It’s a better choice for a lifestyle in which long distances are covered, and cooking/sleeping in the vehicle fill the gaps between using indoor spaces. The money saved on fuel can be spent on the occasional cheap accommodation, or using coffee shops for office space.

The nightmare comes when you need a live-in vehicle that you can also drive long distances…I haven’t found a solution for that problem yet.

IMG_3519 Yellow Van

My current setup – quite similar to my ideal design but with less storage space

 

So, I’m currently running: a short wheelbase VW Transporter. It’s a squeeze. I’m continually pairing down my possessions. My pet gripes with this lifestyle are that it’s not possible to set up my studio speakers in a van so small, and I have to store most of my instruments in a friend’s cupboard. It’s too cramped a space to act as a useful practice room, so I’m sad to say I’ve practiced less since having a small van.

My dream small van represents how I’d upgrade my current van. To summarise, I’d double the cupboard space and buy more sports bags and packing cubes.

Van Top viewOver time I’ve come to love the simplicity of my current van furniture – one bed and one kitchen cupboard set. I wouldn’t do much to change it. At first I was frustrated with a few things but soon discovered they were symptoms of having a small van not design flaws in the furniture

  • IMG_2569The bed is too low to fit boxes underneath, but if it were higher I couldn’t sit up in bed.
  • The bed is too short (5ft), but I’ve got used to it now and lengthening it would only eat into the living space.
  • There’s no bike rack, so I have to take my bike out of the van and lock to a lamppost literally every time I want to use the back space. But actually, a rack would cost £200 and then it would keep costing by decreasing the van’s MPG, so I won’t bother.

Other things that you may have to deal with in a small-van:

  • No heating: The gas stove can be used in short bursts but that’s it really. Fortunately such a small space warms quickly, but having no wood burner can result in damp just from breathing – air your van regularly.
  • Limited kitchen: I currently have no running water and no fridge, but re-fill water bottles whenever docking. If I started spending more days in my van I’d upgrade, but currently it’s better to have more cupboard space than to have a fridge sitting empty half the time. Most foods except meat keep ok in the kitchen cupboard and I don’t mind eating tinned food for when needed.
  • No toilet: This hasn’t been a problem so far. In urban areas toilets are often available, especially when docking in a driveway. I’ve also a funnel and some piss-bottles (emptied when facilities appear). In nature, a trowel enables bears to shit in the woods.
  • Low headroom: Bad weather during a trip can mean being shut in a tight space with no room even to stand up for days on end. Solutions are to buy a bigger van, just deal with it, or go to cafes. In an ideal world I’d get a pop-top – currently out of my budget at £3.5k

Having accepted all this, until recently I still found my van too small for all the stuff I needed to carry to make my life function. I pared down hugely, but was still stuck. Then I discovered the key – It’s not about how many cupboards you’ve got, but about what’s going on IN the cupboards.

Van Side ViewCupboards with stuff chucked straight in don’t work – once filled to only ½ their capacity, everything starts to fall out whenever you open a cupboard after a rocky drive. Boxes are better, but you lose a lot of space around the box since it needs to be smaller than the cupboard opening in order to get it in and out. Stuffing cloth bags in can provide more space, but it’s hard to see what’s in them.

Recently I’ve solved these problems using packing cubes – mini nylon suitcases with transparent tops so you can see what’s in them. Sounds pretty basic, but moving over to using a combination of sports bags and packing cubes has doubled the storage capacity of my van – yes that means I can keep twice as much stuff in the same space! To give you an idea, the majority of my clothes fit into 3 medium sized packing cubes, but I estimate that at least 50 cubes of the same size would fit under the bed.

When I first got my van, I started collecting rectangular nylon sports bags because plastic boxes were too tall to fit under the bed. I’d previously thought that boxes were best, but sports bags showed distinct superiority: they could be folded away if empty or squashed into a smaller space if only half full.

Whenever I stay somewhere even for just a night, it’s easy to take most of my possessions inside since all the bags have convenient handles and shoulder straps. Valuables come inside even if I only stay somewhere for an evening, but I never pack and I never unpack.

The main improvement I could make on my current van is to add another set of cupboards to the right of the bed that reach up to the ceiling, and a small set of cupboards to the left of the bed, high up (as shown in both drawings). With my new packing cube system, I don’t even need that extra space  – it would just be for “visitor” luggage.

masse_kurz

The Dream Yurt was 113 sqft (10.5 sq metere) and was about the right size for a modest living space. Designing a a small van will ultimately be a compromise – trading off features against each other because with less than 4 sq meters (43 sq ft) of floorspace, there simply isn’t enough room for everything. Rather have a short bed or a folding bed? Rather have a full kitchen or more cupboards for luggage?  I’d rather be able to ride my bike than give it up for the sake of more space, so I’ve gone for packing my van to the brim and packing smart. This system really shines when I’m working. It’s wonderful being able to pull my portable amp out, strap it to my bike and go for a day’s busking, or to go to a country house with one bag and set up to shoot a https://www.youtube.com/embed/b07rbdJ-UpA” target=”_blank”>music video like this one.

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Trapped By An Obsession With Freedom?

What I take on short trips where I'd need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn't it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

What I take on short trips where I’d need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn’t it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

For the past year I’ve been obsessively paring down my stuff, and eliminating consumerist spending habits from my life. Essentially, I’ve become a minimalist. It’s freed me in all sorts of ways; given me more time for music and for the sweet and simple things…yet I’m still not satisfied. Recently I’ve been considered the 100 thing challenge, the project 333 or 10 item wardrobe etc etc…but then I realised something about minimalism – it’s about freedom from stuff. What good is becoming minimalist, if I spend so much time obsessing about being minimalist? Isn’t that simply being trapped by stuff in a different way?

The weird thing is that since the criteria for these challenges is quite wide, I already qualify for all of them. I thought people felt free after completing these processes, yet I still feel trapped! Why? Well, partly because I hate dealing with stuff. I suppose I could cut down to owning only what I can carry? Wouldn’t that be ultimate freedom?

No, in my case it would just be silly. I’d have to give up the things I use to do what makes me happiest; my recording studio and musical instruments, The other reason I feel trapped must be in my head. When I set myself a goal I put all my efforts into fulfilling it, even when that defeats the object of the exercise. This in itself is what makes me feel trapped. I feel enslaved by the target, without even knowing why anymore. But life is simple when you can pretend that it’s about reaching an arbitrary target. It’s a way of holding onto something solid in the world. So many of us fall into that trap. This isn’t to say that aims and goals are a bad thing.

It’s said that people are happiest when they are doing something that they find difficult, but that’s important to them. We can challenge and express ourselves by doing something that we believe in. We are happy when our goals reflect what we believe in, but unhappy when we’re asked to meet targets that mean nothing to us personally (“I want that report on my desk first thing tomorrow!”)

“Having minimal stuff” has been a good target for me. It allows me physical freedoms (travel, less tidying up, being able to afford experiences), but it’s important not to confuse that with my own inner sense of personal freedom.

It’s also important not to think “I will be happy when my next goal is completed”, because that’s like saying “I’ll never be hungry again after my next meal”. It doesn’t matter whether you think “I will feel free when I have a paid off my mortgage in full” or “I will feel free when I own less than 100 things”… it’s time to give it up!

Freedom or happiness are not defined by these arbitrary goals, but are fluid and reside within us. Targets are measurable and external. We cling to them because we are terrified by the idea that happiness is not a solid object: we can’t build, buy or define it. Over and over again we strive to achieve targets, only to find that all we achieved was the target, not the ultimate happiness we imagined would come along with it. It’s time to get re-alligned.

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