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So you’ve decided to live in a van–congratulations! After months of research you found the perfect van for you, saved up the money, and finally can look out the window and see it in the driveway. You’re excited to move out of your apartment and hit the open road for whatever adventure comes your way. You pack up all of your stuff into boxes, put it into storage and tell yourself you’re only going to bring the “bare essentials”: bedding, phone chargers, enough clothes to last a week. No need to fill up your limited space with clutter and useless junk, right?
Sure, you can probably leave those shirts you never wear or the XBox in storage. But sticking to only the bare essentials will make your new living environment boring and uncomfortable, and soon you’ll be feeling anxious and homesick. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in your van, so why not make it cozy?
If you’ve seen my rig, you know I don’t have room for many of the things I list below. But for people living in VW vans or campervans, there’s more space to play with.
Let there be light!
Any home decor blog will tell you that a great way to make any space look bigger is to play with the lighting. If you’re in a safe environment, rolling down the blackout curtains and letting in a little sunlight can make the van feel bigger. If you can’t do that, string an LED light rope (http://amzn.to/2nsGoJG) around the rig, which will not only add a little color to your van’s interior but also let you use red light before bed (which is a good thing).
If you have extra ceiling space and want to class up your rig, try sticking an adhesive magnet (http://amzn.to/2phD3t9) to your ceiling and hanging a magnetic chandelier!
Photos and art
The road can be a lonely place, and loneliness feeds anxiety. Displaying a photo or two of your family and friends can remind you of the support system that has your back during your journey. I found this campervan picture frame (http://amzn.to/2ro5M3k) if you want to show off your vanlife pride.
Deck the halls
Say it’s the holiday season, and you’ve decided not to go home this year. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun of holiday decorations: show your Halloween spirit with spooky glow-in-the-dark stickers (http://amzn.to/2oeXkjO), hang paper cutouts of skulls or bats from the ceiling, or put a Halloween pillow cover over your pillow. In December, try decorating a mini Christmas tree, displaying a battery-powered menorah, or setting out the symbols of Kwanzaa depending on how much space you have in your rig to store these for the other 11 months out of the year.
Keep it clean
Psychologists say that a cluttered home leads to a cluttered mind. I know that when I used to live in an apartment I would feel more stressed out when I had piles of clothes and junk lying around. The same thing goes with my van–when I get lazy and don’t put things back in their designated spots, not only do I have a hard time finding things like phone chargers and flashlights, but I notice my anxiety level slowly creep up. Regularly organizing the van’s interior can prevent this from happening.
The first step to tidying up is making the decision to do it and standing firmly by that decision; if you don’t make it a goal, your van is going to be cluttered again in a day or two. Recognize that your environment is making you anxious, and that things need to be put back where you know you can find them later. Organization is not just a physical effort; the vast majority is mental.
After you get your mental decluttering game tuned in, it’s time to make sure you have the right gear. Car organizers like this and this can provide places for your chargers, batteries and other small items to keep them from getting lost. Try hanging coats or purses from hooks like these that attach to the headrest, or installing a key rack by the door.
Mark your territory
One great thing to do at home is sit on the front porch with a cool drink and enjoy the view. If you are mostly parking at campsites and other legal areas, you can capture that feeling by setting up a “porch” of your own outside your van. Even if you simply keep a folding camp chair (http://amzn.to/2maCnpo) somewhere easily accessible in your van, you can still sit and enjoy the view of wherever you are–linked is the one I use. An inflatable lounger is easy to store, or if you park near trees (or poles), maybe lounging in a hammock is more your style. If you have the room to store it, a removable awning, foldable camping table, and a portable barbeque can complete the package.
What are other vandwellers doing?
I was curious to see what other people living in vans do to make their space feel more like home, so I reached out to a vandweller whose Instagram I’ve been following ever since I started vandwelling. Lyn Sweet travels the country in her Toyota Yaris painting hauntingly beautiful neon masterpieces, and sometimes even collaborates with other artists she meets throughout her journey (like here in Austin, TX). Here’s what she said when I asked her what she does to make her Yaris feel more like home:
“I put a fake plant in my cup holder on the passenger side and Christmas lights around the back. Also having an old wicker shoe box holder that I bought back in college as my main storage box makes it feel homier than using a plastic tub!”
If you want to get really crazy, why not have your van express your personality not only inside, but also outside? During her recent stop in Arizona, Lyn was commissioned by brothers Justin and Adam Henderson to paint a “trippy space scene” (complete with four-eyed astronaut cat) on their van. Judge for yourself, but I say it turned out pretty awesome.