Two days till vanlife

It starts in two days.

It’s Friday night at 8:30. I’m sitting in the polar bear, that is, the van, in the parking lot of a coffee shop on College Rd. I’m typing this into a word document that I’ll paste into wordpress when I’m done so I don’t have to waste my laptop battery on wifi in the meantime. The windows are down and the van is off, and it’s a reasonable temperature, for me anyway – sometimes it seems like people around here bitch about anything over 75 degrees.

In about an hour I’ll get a call from my sister and meet her halfway between here and Raleigh to pick up my youngest nephew, who’s spending the second-to-last night in the apartment with me. We’ll hit up the beach tomorrow, I wager. Or whatever. He’s cool, so it doesn’t much matter what we do. Tomorrow night he’ll come out and see my band play arguably our most notable show to date. After that, he’ll get taken by my rents back to Raleigh, and I’ll spend my last night for the known future sleeping in an apartment of my own. That night is tomorrow night. Word.

The apartment is a shell and bones, it’s guts are just about scraped clean out. The only thing in my room is the desk (decided to sell it, not having any luck so far), the mattress that’s going in the van when I make the switch, and a box and a half of stuff that doesn’t really belong to me, but that somehow I’ve come to possess. Some of this not-really-mine whoosawhatsit is going home with me mum and dad tomorrow, and whatever’s left, I’ll post a picture of on facebook and hope people claim.

These 1.5 boxes contain a fine assortment- for example, my paddle from a fraternity I once pledged, which, to be honest, doesn’t mean much to me and which I hope to get back to the frat house. Clothing – from tights to sombreros – belonging mostly to women, but for the most part, no, not because of scandal and sauciness (get your head out of the gutter). An electric air pump. Etc. The fact that I could light these 1.5 boxes of other people’s stuff on fire, and maybe every 50th item would ever even get thought of by its owner again, make these beautiful tokens of why, at least for a person in my position, being forced to throw stuff away is awesome. I do not need junk. I’ve given away or trashed so-ho much stuff as I’ve prepared to vanlive. It’s bloody amazing. As I toss thing after stupid thing into the junk boxes, every little slap-twang of “ehhh, but what if I need/want that someday?” recedes into a feeling of freeing myself, sort of like the initial oof of getting your back cracked ultimately leaves you much more relaxed and at ease.

That said, I ought to step off my soapbox. I have quite taken advantage of my storage unit, which contains not just a few of my toys. How minimalist is someone with a surf, skim, and snowboard locked away in an oversized closet?

Still, I’m excited. The van is organized and so, so close to ready. Most of the stuff fits under the bed in plastic storage containers. It’s actually rather neat. And, this morning, for the first time, I used the gym as the start of my day. I rolled out of bed, put on not-super-fresh basketball shorts and t-shirt, walked into the gym with the somber handful of morning-workout type folk, ran a couple miles on the treadmill, and made use of the showers (they are such nice showers for a gym, seriously). Okay, so motion-sensor sinks are infuriating things to try to use when brushing your teeth, but other than that? Bloody awesome. I felt great.

I don’t know how much of this is quick-fading novelty. I don’t know how much is me overdosing on the rush of being weird, or clinging to this self-imposed struggle like to the escapism of a fantasy novel. I don’t know how much is actually me striving for a more enlightened existence, though I’m having fun pretending it’s 100% of it. I’m ready to find out. This Sunday, the experiment begins.

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Quick update

-Popped a tire trying to parallel park (dur). Got my house towed.
-Got the mattress.
-Made a bed with me dad and nephew (Full post coming soon).
-Gave my old bed back to my parents.
-Took the tv out, inspected how it was hooked up (ideally, someday, I’d like to replace it with a better one).
-A little water leaked from the roof, right by the windshield.
-Inspected the area behind the tv, including the fiberglass roof for leaks; saw none and suspect the leak is where the roof meets the frame of the vehicle- not terribly worried about it.
-Had the rear brakes professionally tuned up.
-Replaced the front rotors with aid from me dad.
-Took the van back to the mechanic due to gearbox-oil leak near right rear wheel-well (say “right rear wheel well” five times fast), incurred another ~$300 dollar bill replacing the rear right bearing, axle, and seal, bringing the total spent on this beast after purchase to almost $1000.
-Thought of a bunch more things I want to get.
-Slept in the van. Twice. How was it? Awesome. Mostly. Details soon.

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Step 1: deviding man from stuff

The first thing I have to do is downgrade. The stuff I own is either coming into the van with me, being given away, trashed, or sold, or going into a 10 by 10 storage unit I just rented for $60 a month. Ideally, I will not stuff it.

Last Sunday (a week ago, not yesterday), I took almost every piece of clothing I owned and put them into three piles. One to keep, one to donate, and one to throw away. When I was done, I went to a laundromat to do a mass-washing (most of my clothes were also dirty). At the end, I had little more than a single laundry basket to keep. I had about two more laundry baskets to donate. I also had a small collection of t-shirts that I don’t wear anymore, but that I’d like to pay someone to stitch together into a blanket or rug-like-thing, because they have significance to me, representing my high school, tennis team, the Church I grew up going to, my college newspaper at which I worked for a while, and the shirt I wore on the second date with my first love. You know. Sentimental shit.

Furniture is easier. I don’t have much attachment to it. The lovely sea-green wooden queen bed and accompanying mattress, which my parents lent me when I moved into my current apartment, are going back to their house. So is the dresser. I have a nice glass-top desk I got from a guy off craigslist, which I like significantly more than I usually bother to like furniture- I’m on the fence as to whether to sell it or store it. My piano is going into storage, without question. I hope to continue to play it in the unit. Why not?

I have a desktop computer that I’ll put in storage. I have a bike and surfboard that I will put in storage unless I can find an exceptionally efficient way to keep them aboard the van – I plan to retrieve them often. I have a small filing cabinet of important-ish papers that I’m thinking I’ll put in storage, but am a bit worried about.

Anything else I either haven’t encountered yet, or isn’t significant enough to mention- I’m just getting rid of it as economically as possible. Ideally, when this process is over, I will own very little outside of what I can fit in the van.

Now then, I’ll also need a few things.

I’ve purchased a mattress. A $200, memory-foam twin mattress. It is the most I beleive I’ve ever spent on furniture. And it’s for a van. But it’s gonna be niiice. I’m excited. I plan to construct a small raised platform for it with my Dad in Raleigh. Underneath, I’ll store stuff- clothes, probably.

I also plan to buy

  • a car-cigarette-lighter-to-electrical-outlet converter (That’s what they’re officially called, right?)
  • a small stove of some kind – either gas or electrically powered by the above device
  • a solar-powered charger
  • a small water tank
  • a bucket (if you’ve guessed what this is for, don’t worry, it’ll only be used as an absolute last-resort)
  • a cooler
  • storage bins that will fit under my bed platform
  • A small folding table
  • Pepper spray, a tazer, or a gun- I haven’t decided yet (if you have advice on this front, please explain in the comments)

Besides physical belongings, I’ve also, as I mentioned, rented a storage unit, and I’ve gotten a gym membership. Not because I want to get swole, though getting sexy would be a nice side effect, but so that I can use the showers- which, by the way, are nicer than my apartment’s, have free body wash and shampoo in little dispensers, and are accessible 24 hours a day Monday through Thursday, and 12 hours a day the rest of the week. Not bad.

Lastly, I’ll need to get a Post Office box, so that I can have some sort of an address.

The countdown’s begun, and I’m excited.

As fireworks pop outside of this Starbucks, it’s not lost on me that I’m lucky to live in America, which, I feel, is unique in it’s ability to facilitate this experiment so smoothly. Happy Fourth, mates.

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The Van Experiment: Doubtful, Rediculous, and Sexy

My name is Mike. On August 1st, I will move into a van.

I will live, as it were, from this van. It is not an RV, it is a van. Other than its size, and the fact that it is in my possession, it is not in any way specially equipped for this.

I live in the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina. I have a full-time 9-5 job in web development and IT. I am male, strait, sane, of an upper(?)-middle-class all-American upbringing, and at the time of this posting, I am emotionally stable, financially stable, generally law-abiding, 20-something, bored, and heretofore, ostensibly normal. But, of course, I’m not actually normal – nobody interesting can by definition be terribly normal – and my lifestyle is about to reflect this.

Very few people do not find this at least interesting. But, more specifically, the people I tell have three general reactions. First, doubt: There are those who simply don’t beleive I can or will live in a van for any notable period of time. Second, incredulity: There are those who don’t speculate as to my ability to do this, but think that my attempting it at all is ridiculous (which, to be fair, is a reasonable enough reaction).  Then, third, there are those who think it is respectable, awesome, or even – and I quote -  sexy. All three of these reactions to my plans feed my desire to try this. I will prove the doubters wrong, I will take pride and pleasure in being ridiculous, and I will embrace those who embrace me.

The thing people tend to focus on, when I first tell them, is the “how”. How will I cook, shit, shower, do laundry, survive Wilmington summer without AC? I have a preliminary answer to all of those questions, and no, it doesn’t involve constant fast food meals, shitting in bushes, smelling awful, or dieing of heat stroke. What it does involve constitutes a lot of what this blog will detail, so I won’t spoil the fun by giving it away yet.

The question I’m surprised I don’t hear more often is “Why?”. In fact, I got asked this so seldomly at first, that the first time someone did, in earnest, ask why, I didn’t really have an answer. I’d never put it into words. I still can’t quite – it’s a mostly emotional, not logical, rationale, that has something to do with rebellion, autonomy, and being 23. But here are a few well-defined reasons to get the ball rolling, roughly in order of significance. At some point, I’ll probably write a post about each of these.

As close as I can currently get to “Why”:

  • It’s a challenge
  • I like the idea of minimalism in one’s lifestyle (for further reading, see the backpack monologue from the film Up In The Air)
  • To save money
  • It’s interesting, and it’s interesting to write about
  • To remind myself, by living in something that moves at my command, that I do not want to work, immobile and under the command of others, at a desk job for the rest of my life.
  • To prevent, by force, the powerful seduction of normalcy

Lastly, before I sign off, let me make something explicit: this is an experiment. I do not have the delusion that I will do this forever (nor do I rule out that slight possibility). Assuming I give this a fair shake, I will not feel shame if and when I move out of the van and back into another structure- be it an apartment, a house, an RV, or a shack in a tree in the woods. It will not be a defeat, but simply the next step in my life (though I’m sure I’ll still get a lot of shit about it from those who fell into the aforementioned ‘doubtful’ and ‘ridiculous’ categories of criticism).

So, if you care to, tune in as I post, approximately weekly, my honest, heart-on-sleeve account of this adventure. I’ll do my best to keep it interesting. Cheers.


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